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Shyamananda Jalan: Living through the theatre
Shyamanand Jalan is a multifaceted personality and a name to reckon with in the world of theatre. Jalan as been seriously involved in film, theatre and law. He spends most of his time at Padatik, a dance and art academy founded by him in Kolkata.
THOUGH HE does not have a very sound memory of the pre Independent era and the struggle for Independence, Shyamananda Jalan, a veteran theatre personality, director and actor, confesses that the social ideologies discussed at that time had an impact on him which was seen in his theatre work. Meet Shyamanand Jalan, a multifaceted personality and a name to reckon with in the world of performing arts. Jalan as been seriously involved in film, theatre and law. He spends most of his time at Padatik, a dance and art academy founded by him in Kolkata.

“I came from a very progressive family. It was different from the other Marwari families. My family has distinctive members, but none of them are businessmen,” explains Jalan. He recalls his father being active in politics during the Independence struggle. “As a child I remember witnessing a lot of meetings that used to take place in our house. All this directly or indirectly made us a part of the freedom struggle,” he said.

In his college days, he was a part of the Burrabazar Students Congress. A student of Scottish Church College, Kolkata, Jalan's association with theatre began from his school days. “I was active in college as well. I took part in a lot of productions in college. I pursed theatre along with my studies. I continued with theatre even while studying law. My academics never disturbed my role in theatre and vice versa,” he recalls. Even today, he pursues theatre along with his practice in law. Talking about his routine, Jalan says, “The day’s efforts are still to law and the evenings to theatre.”

Outside school and college, he acted for the first time in 1949, in a play called Naya Samaj, followed by Samasya by Tarun Roy in 1951. His first directional venture was a children’s play Ek thi Rajkumari by Tarun Roy in Hindi in 1953. This was followed by Konark by Jagdish Chandra Mathur in 1954 and Chandragupta by Seth Govind Das in 1955. “My productions are based on the basic democratic values and the system of man and woman,” he said.

Jalan remembers playing an active part in the Theatre Movement in India. Though most of his work is in Hindi, he has also worked in Bengali productions. These include Tughlaq, a Bengali play for Pashchimbanga Natya Unnayan Samity in 1972. In this play he worked with prominent Bengali actors like Sambhu Mitra,  Debabrata Dutta, Rudraprasad Sengupta to name a few.

“I experimented a lot in theatre. For instance, in Ashadh Ka Ek Din by Mohan Rakesh, I tried to portray the dramatic possibilities of the play which was till then only valued for its literary qualities,” he explains.

Some of his plays received national acclaim. These include Badal Sircar’s Evam Indrajit and Pagal Ghora and a political satire Shuturmurg. In his production Chapte Chapte in 1963, he used the arena style which was the first of it kinds in India. He has also worked on English productions which includes The Good Woman of Setzuan.

Along with theatre, he has also worked in and directed some films and television serials. Some of the films are; Arohan directed by Shyam Benegal, Kahan Kahan se Guzar Gaya by MS Sathyu, City of Joy by Ronald Joffe and so on. The serials include, Bargad in 1987. His directorial ventures include; Pagal Ghora a two hours television film in 1976, Mukhabhinaya, a film for the National Film Development Corporation in 1998 and so on.

“There is a vast difference in theatre today,” rues Jalan. “We were very serious about theatre and did what we wanted to do. Today, professionals have come into theatre. We had no formal training to act or direct like some theatre people have today. People now want to earn money; it has become a career option for people.” However, at the same time he feels that theatre has lost its importance in social life as there are so many other viable options available.

He also feels that a lot of original writing is taking place. A lot of positive developments are taking place in theatre. “Despite proliferation of multimedia avenues like films and television, theatre will survive. Both theatre and films will continue to exist,” he states. He is confident that they will not harm each order. Giving a piece of advice to the aspiring actors, directors and the youth of this country in general, he said, “Try to be true to yourself and do not interfere with the aspirations and the business of others.”

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