The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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On the board, a revival from ashes
- Ground-plus-four avatar for biswarupa

In the days when Hatibagan was the Covent Garden of Calcutta, the play Setu created theatre history. Tapas Sen’s wizardry had produced the illusion of a train chugging across a bridge. It all appeared to have happened in a couple of breathtaking seconds on the revolving stage, the first of its kind in Calcutta. Tripti Mitra’s histrionics held the audience in thrall and Setu ran for a record 2,000 nights.

Years later, in the 60s, Supriya Debi pulled the crowds as she appeared in a succession of plays based on the novels of Bimal Mitra. Plays like Kori Diye Kinlam and Sab Thik Hai became legends of commercial theatre. Long before skin shows had become standard, the play Chowringhee had created a sensation, when for the first time, the staid Bengali audience was treated to a floorshow by dancer Shefali.

All this happened between the mid-50s and the 70s, and the hall that witnessed so much action on the boards was Biswarupa. But by the late 70s, decline had set in. Some of the most happening halls of those days, such as Minerva, Rangmahal and Star, began to die. In their heyday, scalpers could easily make a fortune. But by the 80s, empty halls would greet the actors, though the producers stooped really low at times. Prurience cannot hold audience interest for long.

Later, a mysterious fire gutted Star theatre and Rangmahal became a wedding hall. On Diwali 2001, another mysterious fire consumed the remains of Biswarupa. But now, it seems, the hall will soon rise from the ashes. Biswarupa’s foundation stone was laid anew by mayor Subrata Mukherjee, in the presence of Supriya Debi on July 1, Rathyatra.

The veteran actress is very hopeful about the enterprise. “We should not be negative about the future. Perhaps they will be able to attract the audience once again. I still believe there is a good market for productions, both stage and film, with a good storyline, acting and music. And there is no dearth of good stories in Bengal. But everybody will have to work hard,” she says.

Biswarupa will be reborn as a ground-plus-four market complex with two halls —the 400-500 seater Biswarupa and another conference hall for 200-250 people. The Rs 6-7 crore project will take two and a half years to complete. The project is the brainchild of Jayanti Mishra, daughter of Rashbehari Sarkar, who had taken charge of the hall in the 1973. It is being developed by Nand Kishore Bhuthra. Mishra says: “I want to revive the old culture and glory of Bengal. It was my father’s dream.”

A theatre hall was first built on that spot in the 30s. Before that, it used to be matchbox factory, says Mishra. In 1934-35, Ashkaran Vaid of Churu district, in Bikaner, the sole agent of gold mohurs in the eastern region, had bought the 54-cottah plot. His son, Girdharilal, inherited it. Ashkaran’s grandchild, Manikchand, went to court against his father. In desperation, Girdharilal created a trust and the suit was settled in 1959 with a consent decree. One of the terms of the settlement was that after Manikchand’s death, the trust will be dissolved. Manik is in his late 60s.

In the 40s, Shishir Bhaduri had opened Srirangam theatre here. But when he was himself in dire straits, Sarkar Bros Pvt Ltd bailed him out in the 50s. The hall reopened in June 6, 1956, as Biswarupa. Since then, it has seen many ups and downs. Mishra still has a 21-year lease balance on the plot, with a renewable clause. Now, only time will tell how far Mishra’s mission will be successful.

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