After 1857, first war of independence against British rule, all sections of society were simmering with a rebellious fever. While the Nation was bustling with activity against the colonial rule in India, theatre and artists played an important role too. The thread by @Paperclip_in reveals. Read on.
When the Prince of Wales became the subject of a satire on the Bengali theatre stage, the first law of censorship of the arts in India was enforced. A thread on the enlightening backstory
In the 1870s, Bengali Theatre was forging a rebellious nature. With the creation of the National Theatre by Girish Chandra Das, a flurry of plays were staged including Nil Darpan (Indigo Mirror), Bharatmata, and Purubikram.
For the increasingly educated Bengali intelligentsia, the theatre was becoming a medium to vent out their frustrations against their colonial rulers, a point which the British government was not unaware of.
In 1875, Dakshinacharan Chattopadhyaya’s Cha kar Darpan was published, a highly provocative mockery of the atrocities by tea planters against the tea workers.
It was however never staged as the British government saw the attack on tea planters as an attack on themselves.
Amidst this rising tension, in January of 1876, the prince of Wales (future King Edward VII) came for a visit. He was received by a wealthy member of the legislative council Jagadananda Mukherjee.
The prince’s stay at Mukherjee’s mansion in Bhowanipore created a huge scandal as the women of the household gave the prince a traditional Bengali welcome.
Many Bengalis saw this as an insult to their culture & condemned Mukherjee for encouraging the visit.
Upendranath Das, a proponent of the Great National Theatre took it to the next level and came out with a farce on the whole incident, amusingly titled ‘Gajadananda O Juboraj’
The play got staged on #OTD in 1876 and immediately created a standoff between the police and the makers.
Four days later, the play got staged with a different name and again three days later, this time titled Hanuman Charitra or tale of a monkey. Each time the play was staged, it garnered huge audiences and received plaudits from all around.
The Bengal government was forced to pass an ordinance on 29th February 1876 to prohibit certain dramatic performances which were scandalous, defamatory, seditious, obscene or, otherwise prejudicial to the public interest.
The Great National Theatre was not done yet. The very next day, it went head-on with the imperial government and released ‘The Police of Pig and Sheep’.
The play caricatured high-ranking officials the Police Commissioner Sir Stuart Hogg and the Superintendent of Police Mr. Lamb.
A few days later, Upendranath Das and some of his colleagues were arrested on charges of screening an immoral drama. They were however acquitted only days later.
In December of 1876, the Vice-Regal council passed the Dramatic Performances Act effectively banning any kind of act that propagated anticolonial messages. The Act was in place till 1962 when it was removed due to persistent agitation.
A contemporary cartoon was published mocking the draconian law depicting “Mosha Marte Kaman” – a popular Bengali proverb which translates to “Firing a cannon to kill a mosquito”.
Source – The Indigenous Voice of Poetomachia, dharmadispatch.in