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Alkazi Theatre Archives


Looking at Theatre Zines as Social Documents: A Case Study Analysing Theatre History of Shahider Daak Published in 1987 Rangavarta

Theatre reflects and possibly affects its society’s view of the world: its history, philosophy, religious attitudes, social structure, theoretical assumptions, its way of thinking about humanity and the world and nature.Through its historiographic interventions it adds to the dominant discourse, forgotten and marginalized events.

Following the Meerut massacre of 1987,  Rangavarta (23-24) published a column of theatre history discussing the play ‘Shahider Daak’ performed by Indian People’s Theatre Association, Bengal in late 1946. Shahider Daak brings into light the dark history of the Noakhali riots in East Bengal, which began on 10th October, 1946 where the British Government exercised deliberate non-interference, which resulted in acceleration of violence. This was followed by the Bihar riots.    

First performed by the Surma Valley Squad, this shadow play was based on a script by novelist Narayan Gangopadhyay. The play, which was influenced by Uday Shankar’s earlier shadow-dance on the Bengal Famine of 1943 and Khaled Chowdhury’s shadow-play against communal disharmony, adapted traditional puppet theatre forms from southern India and Indonesia, where, instead of puppets, Shahider Daak included human actors and used the form of mobile-theatre.

The play travelled extensively through parts of Bengal and Assam, catering to audiences from varied classes and communities. Shampa Bhattacharya writes, “as they travelled they would absorb important local incidents into their play. Naturally when the audience saw their own tale, being told within the structure of the play, they would find it more interesting and relevant. This was intentionally done, to rouse the people of the land to the fact that it was actually the imperialist rulers of our country who were at the back of the communal split, and not Hindus nor Muslims.”                        

Published the same year as the Meerut riots, this printed document responds to its immediate socio-political crisis by rooting its cause into history via this event in theatre history.

Image courtesy: Anand Gupt Collection/ Alkazi Theatre Archives