The subject was not an easy one. And following it up, through over three centuries, was even tougher. But that did not stop Sandhya De from researching it for over 15 years.
The result of her undaunted work, an exhibition on the history of group theatre, was on display at Gaganendra Pradarshashala (picture by Sanjoy Chattopadhyaya), as part of the fourth Natyamela, organised by the information and cultural affairs department, government of West Bengal.
The exhibition had over 300 pictures, while according to De, 'there are thousands stacked at home'.
The display traced the chronological development of most prominent theatre groups in the city. There was Utpal Dutt, a strapping young man in Chaitali Raater Swapno, the Bengali version of A Midsummer Night's Dream and in Romeo and Juliet in People's Little Theatre; a young Shaoli Mitra as little Amal in Tagore's Daakghar, or as Draupadi in Nathbati Anathbat'
'I have thousands of reviews, photographs, articles and theatre-related material, collected painstakingly over the years from the National Library, archives of various organisations, personal collections, some of which will be now given to the government,' said De.
In the early Eighties, having left her Habra home against the wishes of her family, to pursue theatre in Calcutta, De had been left alone to fend for herself after the death of mentor and theatre veteran Ajitesh Bandopadhyay.
'Neither could I go back home nor did I have anything substantial to do. So I decided to complete my masters in Bengali from Calcutta University, with theatre as my special paper,' said De, a founder member of Nandikar. 'And from then, I was on a roll.'
Realising the near-nothingness of history compilation on the Bengali stage, De took up the mammoth task.
'I would visit actors, directors, writers, professors, photographers and others, and request all of them to give me any material they had on their respective groups,' she added.
De has already put together a Bengali theatre dictionary, the publication of which is in the offing. 'Next in line is a website, among thousands of other things'