By Nitya Chakraborty
Maya Ghosh who mesmerized the theatrelovers of Calcutta in 1960s through her extraordinary acting prowess passed away in Kolkata on Saturday virtually unsung. She was79 and ailing for quite some time. Those of us who were witness to the surge of the group theatres in Calcutta in the second half of last century, still remember the thrill and excitement over the production of Nandikar’s Bengali adaptation of Italian writer Luigi Pirandello’s “Six Characters in Search of an Author” Maya showed her mettle first as an actor in this adapted play by portraying the character of the mother.
The sixth decade of the last century in Calcutta was culturally volatile. After the glorious days of the Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA) in 1940s and 1950s, the centralized IPTA could not keep many of the talented artistes in the areas of drama, films and music. Sambhu Mitra founded his own group “Bohurupee” in 1948. This was followed by Utpal Dutta’s Little Theatre Group. Many other groups like Soubhanik, Nandikar came into being within the framework of the ideals of the IPTA. The new young directors looked for both original and adaptations. Sambhu Mitra adapted Ibsen’s ‘The Doll’s House”, ‘ The Ghosts” and “ The Enemy of the People”. Mitra also stunned the theatrelovers through his production of Sophocles’s Oedipus The group theatre movement was looking for real, socially relevant as also adaptations having relevance to the eco-political situation in India. So the groups looked to the German writer Bertolt Brecht and gave his plays Indian orientation.
It was in this ambience Maya Ghosh began her career in Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA), Dum Dum Branch, in the play Saoñtali Bidroho (Santhal Revolt, 1961) by Ajitesh Bandyopadhyay. When Ajitesh left IPTA to form Nandikar, she became one of the founders of the group. Her first performance in Nandikar was in the role of the mother in Pirandello’s play. It was a new experience to the theatre goers. Maya Ghosh became a big name among the theatrelovers through this oneplay alone. However in 1966, when thirteen members of Nandikar split from the group and formed a new group “Theatre Workshop”, Maya joined the new group, eventually becoming its President. Here, she worked on highly successful plays like Chak Bhanga Modhu (written by Manoj Mitra), Rajrakta (written by Mohit Chattopadhyay and directed by Bibhash Chakraborty), Bela Obelar Golpo, Vietnam, and several other plays.
Maya was a classic example of a talented woman theatre actor of a poor family of that politically turbulent period of Calcutta. She had to look after a family of four through her earnings from theatre. The group theatre payment was very meagre, she had to do plays for office clubs to run the expenses of the family. Amidst all these pressures, she continued to work for the her group giving stellar performances in every role.
In an interview to Rusati Sen, a leading academic and researcher she said in 2011 “A less busy, lesser-known actress like me will have to deliver her dialogues in the absence of the person to whom my dialogues are delivered. Yet I do it. Didn’t I say this before? If I say no to TV completely, what will I eat? It takes some time to get the money, but I get it at least! I don’t really have an alternative in front of me now; working here, I get a handful sum together; I spend it slowly. I don’t know when will I get to work next. If I get four thousand rupees, I can manage”.
Just imagine. This was the plight of one of the greatest female actors of the group theatres at the age of 68. She was still struggling, looking for small roles to survive. But this woman played the principal character in Mohit Chattopadhaya’s play ‘Rajrakta” in early 1970s directed by Bibhash Chakraborty under Theatre Workshop. This play was the mirror of that period of terror organized both by the state authorities as also the fringe elements of the Naxalites. Rajrakta was the expression of the anger of Bengal in that period and Maya’s character was the medium.. Maya was not a trained actor that way. She took up acting to earn money for taking care of her family. But she had extraordinary instinct. Her acting in Rajrakta is still remembered by those who saw that. I personally feel that Maya gave her best performance in Rajrakta.
Maya has received several awards, including the Paschimbanga Natya Akademi Puraskar (West Bengal State Theatre Academy Award) for her performance in Bela Obelar Golpo in 1987. But still the worth of her work is largely unknown outside Bengal. The only available account of her life has been published as Monchoy Jibon (A Life on the Stage), edited by Rushita Sen and published by Thema. Maya did not get her due in her long struggling life. But her life is worth portraying in a play or a biopic… That will be a real tribute to a talent who contributed so much to the growth of group theatre movement in Bengal. (IPA Service)