Theater at its best is a most difficult
and demanding art form. As mimed fable, the play laughs at fools and praises
heroes while probing their emotional and ethical dilemmas amid the
adventures of life. Yet the serious dramatist goes far beyond telling tales.
He mirrors and illuminates the realities of his society. None are spared in
this remorseless scrutiny. Ideological persuasions are seen as incomplete
and often shallow. Candor of inquiry and presentation distinguish the
genuine artist from the propagandist. And his actors portray the
timelessness and universality of the essential human character that with its
flaws, fallacies and fortitude must shape our destinies.
SOMBHU MITRA qualifies with gifted versatility as a complete man of such
theater. A Bengali, he is heir to the rich cultural tradition that also
produced Rabindranath Tagore. Joining the professional stage in 1939 when 24
years old, he quickly earned repute as a fine actor with notably eloquent
voice and gesture, but quit three companies out of dissatisfaction with
stereotyped dramas. In association with wartime anti-fascist writers and
artists in 1943, his staging of a protest play won theatrical acclaim. This
relationship ended in 1948 with his refusal to sacrifice art to doctrine.
That same year he organized a non-commercial dramatic troupe, Bohurupee,
with 15 artists for whom the theater was not a livelihood but a dedication.
Bohurupee's initial years were marked by artistic integrity achieved through
hard struggle. The troupe was shunned by commercial theaters, alarmed by the
success of its startling departures from familiar sentimentality and
melodrama, and accused of distortion by the political right and left. MITRA
and his wife, Tripti—herself an accomplished actress, subsisted on tea and
boiled vegetables until tided through each crisis by film roles. By
preference, MITRA today receives income only as Head of the Drama Department
of Rabindra Bharati University in Calcutta.
Overcoming meager costuming and sets with masterful acting and stagecraft,
MITRA produced for Indian audiences some of the world's great classics. His
adaptations of Henrik Ibsen's An Enemy of the People and A Doll's House, and
his sensitive translation of Sophocles' Oedipus Rex, made dramatically
meaningful in Bengali their moral concern with truth and self-realization.
His production of Raktakarabi (Red Oleanders), Tagore's never-before staged
poetic allegory of the spirit triumphing over materialism, was a cultural
milestone. Portrayal of such philosophical implications with convincing
reality in this and other powerful plays by Tagore has allowed Bengalis to
discover themselves in drama. Bohurupee's repertoire, also received with
critical enthusiasm in Delhi, Bombay and Madras, includes modern comedies
and social satires by MITRA and hitherto unknown Indian playwrights.
An exacting disciplinarian with himself and colleagues, MlTRA trains his
troupe in voice culture, body movement and all other aspects of acting, and
in stage organization, lighting and decor. His insistence upon minute
examination of plays encourages reflection and interpretation. In 28 years
Bohurupee's artistic teamwork has fostered other lively drama groups
throughout India, while MITRA has shaped the literary taste of an
In electing SOMBHU MITRA to receive the 1976 Ramon Magsaysay Award for
Journalism, Literature and Creative Communication Arts, the Board of
Trustees recognizes his creating a relevant theater movement in India by
superb production, acting and writing.