Saikat Majumdar at Caravan:
THE 1980S WERE A BLEAK TIME in the Communist-ruled state of West Bengal, with the economy a strangled mess of unemployment and industrial lock-outs. Being an intellectual in Bengal very much overlapped with being on the left, if not in fact being a Marxist. And theatre had been a touchstone for leftist politics ever since the Indian People’s Theatre Association was set up in 1942, under the cultural wing of the Communist Party of India. A revolutionary politics called for a revolutionary aesthetic. For example, third theatre, a radical, experimental movement pioneered by the visionary playwright and director Badal Sircar in the late 1960s, completely eschewed the proscenium in favour of the street. By the 1980s, theatre was closely allied with the protest marches that choked Calcutta’s roads every other day. It was a vehicle to advance the political conscience of the nation-state, and of radical, left-leaning groups within it.
It is this story of twentieth-century Bengali theatre that is most prominently archived in academic and public memory. Indeed, the story of left-leaning, experimental theatre is the one most often told about the pan-Indian stage. Minerva, however, was one of several venues for a kind of theatre that, in the 1980s, had just about another decade of flickering life left in the city of labour unrest and street demonstrations. This was the commercial theatre of pleasure and entertainment, also known as “professional” or “board” theatre, which was confined to a cluster of north-Calcutta playhouses, none of them very far from Sonagachi.