Subrata Pal

Subrata Pal, who epitomized the invisible but indispensable man behind the scenes of Bengali theatre, doing his work for groups quietly but flawlessly, died recently. For him, theatre organization was just as important and creative as directing or acting.

He joined Nandikar on Ajitesh Bandopadhyay’s invitation, but only on condition that he wouldn’t have to act. He gradually became a pillar in Nandikar’s administration. He also grew close to Sombhu Mitra, who encouraged him to explore and network with Indian theatre. Inspired by Mitra’s ideas, he organized as early as 1981 a pioneering national traditional theatre festival hosted by the Government of West Bengal. Stages were erected on the field of Rabindra Sarobar Stadium, where Habib Tanvir, K. N. Panikkar, Kailash Pandya, Sanjukta Panigrahi and Ratan Thiyam performed, among many others.

This festival motivated Nandikar to launch its now-annual national theatre festival in 1984, when Bengali audiences hardly had any exposure to theatre from other parts of India. The day the counters opened, a long queue formed to buy tickets, despite torrential rain. In the downpour, Pal went down the line serving hot tea to everyone. Although the backbone of the festival, he hardly ever showed any agitation, and always had the time to answer any question a young critic like me had. Every year there he expressed his genuine concern to me that I should wear warm clothes against the December cold (because I didn’t), and I would ask him to recommend out-of-the-way plays that he made it a point to see every other day but I hadn’t. A constant presence who will be missed.

(With inputs from Bijaylakshmi Barman)