Legendary Bengali playwright Badal Sircar, who gave Indian theatre a new dimension with plays like "Pagla Ghoda" and "Ebang Indrajit", is as busy as ever at 86. For the man who took theatre out of the proscenium, much of the action now happens in the confines of his home.
After spending nearly 40 years perfecting the art of third theatre and absurd theatre and writing pathbreaking existential plays, Sircar is voraciously writing and reading plays to audiences despite his frail health.
"I am reading plays, writing novels, plays and short stories in a frenzy. Currently, I am adapting William Shakespeare's 'Macbeth' into a play, two of Graham Greene's stories and a novel, 'History of Love'. I am not in a position to direct or take part in active physical theatre any more. I spend my days writing, writing...and writing," Sircar told IANS in an telephonic interview from Kolkata.
The legendary playwright and director lives surrounded by books, plays and new visions at his home in Manicktala, at the heart of the metropolis.
The playwright was honoured Tuesday with the Mahindra Excellence in Theatre Award for lifetime achievement in the capital for 40 years of creative contribution to the country's contemporary theatre movement.
Sircar, who has cut down his pace of work since a crippling accident nearly a decade ago, reads his plays instead of directing them.
"I concentrate on play readings. Every two months, 45 members of my troupe assemble at Loreto Day School in Kolkata to read plays. The last play I read was 'Pagla Ghoda'- an old hit," Sircar said.
According to the playwright, reading plays is another way of reaching out to the audience, especially younger ones.
"I was run over by a truck eight years ago and had to be operated upon. The doctors inserted steel plates from the hip onward, forcing me to to cut down on vigorous movement," the playwright said.
"The last play I directed was in 2003," he said, his voice a shade wistful.
Sircar, a civil engineer by training and a town planner by profession, is known for his play "Ebang Indrajit", drawn from a Western work and written while working in Nigeria. It captures the existential angst of the urban youth in post-independence India. The play brought Sircar to the mainstream of Indian theatre.
He was honoured with the Padma Shri in 1972.
He is also known for plays like "Basi Khabar", "Baaki Itihaas", "Tringsha Shatabdi", "Pagla Ghoda", "Spartacus", "Juloos", "Bhoma" and "Solution X".
Sircar carried contemporary plays to unexplored terrain. The street, public spaces and parks were his stage, away from the closed performance space. He broke down the walls that existed in theatre to bring actors and people to a common platform.
"There was no second theatre (proscenium play) in my dictionary. All of it was third theatre. I was the inspiration behind the third and absurd theatre in India - the theatre that went to the audience. But I was not influenced by Bertolt Brecht," Sircar said.
The playwright, who worked in London and later in Nigeria, was influenced by theatre stalwarts like Joan Littlewood, Anthony Serchio, Richard Schechner of the Performance Group and Polish director Jerzy Grotoswki in the 1960s.
"But if you ask me about my favourite playwright, I would say Eugene O' Neill. I don't like modern plays by Tennessee Williams, frankly," he said.
In 1976, he founded his own company, Shatabdi, a new wave troupe that took Sircar's plays to Kolkata's Surendranath Park, now renamed Curzon Park, to involve the audience.
Sircar said his brush with the theatre began in 1951. "I played a character in my own play, 'Bara Trishna', in 1951 staged by Chakra, a theatre group. But I staged my own production for the first time ('Ebang Indrajit') in 1967, a play about three people - Amal, Bimal, Kamal and a loner Indrajit - who dreamt of change," he recalled.
Sircar's earliest encounters with theatre, as the playwright recalls, is "adapting Cinderella into a play from his sister's text book and staging it at home". The fetish for adaptation remained at the core of his literature - both plays and prose.
"I believe in adaptation and Indianising foreign literature because I can't write original plays," Sircar said.
The playwright said he has been "influenced by classical Bengali fiction".
(Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)