Group Theatre Movement

Group Theatre Movement an organised theatre movement that began in the 1950's but gained greater impetus after the war of liberation. It was set up by educated and conscious cultural activists and students of colleges and universities. The group theatre movement made theatre a vehicle for education, culture and awakening. Consequently, it brought about changes in the themes of the plays and in their presentation and style of acting.

The concept of group theatre basically developed outside Bangladesh. The Russian writer Gogol was the first to feel the need for such a movement to bring plays close to life. Stanislavsky successfully applied this concept towards the beginning of the 20th century when his Art Theatre group brought about a substantial transformation in theatre. Its influence spread to Europe and to the United States. From the twenties to the forties, Elia Kazan's the Group Theatre in USA and Unity Theatre in London stirred the world of theatre. The concept of group theatre came to India through the Indian People's Theatre (IPT) in the forties. New plays inspired by this movement of this stream such as Nabanna, Chhenda Tar and Ulukhagda created a stir among theatre-going audiences in Kolkata.

The group theatre movement started in dhaka in the fifties when the educated youth of Dhaka University established drama circle in 1956 under the leadership of Syed Maksudus Saleheen, Abu Zafar Obaidullah Khan, Taufiq Aziz Khan and bazlul karim. Drama Circle showed new ideas in selecting and staging plays. Among the plays staged by the group were Kabar, Manchitra, Keu Kichhu Balte Pare Na, raktakarabi, Bahipir and Kalbela. In 1968 Zia Hyder and Ataur Rahman established nagarik natya sampraday in Dhaka. They were joined later by Ali Zaker, Sara Amin and Asaduzzaman Noor. This group staged Buda Shaliker Ghade Ron (1972) and Baki Itihas (1973). It also started charging regular admission fees. Other plays staged by the group were Sat Manuser Khonje, Bidagdha Ramanikul O Taila Sangkat, Dewan Gazir Kissa, Nuruldiner Sarajiban and Bhenpute Behag.

The group theatre movement encouraged every member to participate in various theatre activities: acting, writing, producing, directing, stage decoration, costume designing as well as organisational activities. This trend extended to the activities of natyachakra (1972) and bahubachan (1972). The group theatre movement was consolidated through Natyachakra under the leadership of M Hamid. The young workers of the group not only acted in plays, but also wrote and produced them. Among the successful plays staged by the group were Explosive O Mul Samsya, Revolution, Samrat O Pratibandhi, Biday Monalisa and Pendulamer Khun. Bahubachan under Farhad Mazhar staged Prajapatir Lilalasya, Sabhapati Balben, Sade Satsho Singha and Nandita Narake. Two experienced actors, Abdullah Al Mamun and Ramendu Mazumdar, set up Theatre in 1972. The first play staged by the group was Munier Chowdhury's Kabar. Theatre also published the country's first and regular theatrical journal, Theater (1972). Among the well-known plays produced by it were Subachan Nirbasane, Ekhan Duhsamay and Kokilara. The aranyak group (1972), established under the leadership of Mamunur Rashid, produced Ora Kadam Ali, Iblish and Guinea Pig. Nasiruddin Yusuf's dhaka theatre (1973) added a new dimension to writing and producing plays based on folk culture. The productions of this group included Muntasir Fantasy, Shakuntala, Kittankhola, Phanimansa, Hat Hadai and Yaibati Kanyar Man. In 1980 this group took the initiative to organise Gram Theatre in different parts of the country.

Other theatre groups which have been contributing to the group theatre movement are the Dhaka-based groups, nandanik (1977), padatik (1978), lokanatya dal (1981), Dhaka Drama (1985), Mahakal (1983), Dhaka Natyadal (1975); the Chittagong-based tirjak (1974), ganayan (1975), arindam (1975), Kanak (1982); the Rajshahi-based anushilan (1979), Rajshahi Theatre (1985); the Kushtia-based ananya (1979); the Sylhet-based sandhani; the Barisal-based shabdabali (1981); the Comilla-based janantik (1978); the Gaibandha-based Padaksep (1986); and the Khulna-based khulna theatre (1981).

In 1980 Ramendu Mazumdar and others set up the bangladesh group theatre federation. In August 1981 the federation held its first annual conference, participated in by 67 theatre groups. In the 15th Annual National Conference of the Federation in September 1999, 175 theatre groups participated. Since its establishment, the federation has been playing a distinct role in promoting and coordinating theatrical activities in the country. [Anupam Hayat]