“…Standing at this point in time I will request the alumni, parents and students to reflect upon what type of a culture they wish to be a part of…I think we should congratulate the hard work of the Xaverian Theatrical Society, in trying to uphold the traditions and culture that exemplify St. Xavier’s, for the last twenty years through the efforts of Prof. Siddhanta and his students…”
– An excerpt from the Principal’s Welcome Address for Hacchoo!! (February 14, 2015)
Professor-in-charge: Prof. Ashis Kumar Siddhanta. (HOD, Department of Chemistry)
Secretary: Adrija Sinha (3rd Year, Department of Mass Communication and Videography)
Asst. Secretary: Purnam Ghosh (2nd Year, Department of Microbiology)
“The theater is the only institution in the world which has been dying for four thousand years and has never succumbed. It requires tough and devoted people to keep it alive.”
– John Steinbeck, Once There Was a War (1958)
Theatre has always been the life-blood coursing through the veins of St. Xavier’s College (Autonomous), Kolkata. The very genesis of the institution lies in a great fire that consumed the San Soucci Theatre. The society drew its first breath in the year 1931 and since then it has had the pride and privilege of producing the finest of all thespians, actors, playwrights and directors like Sombhu Mitra, Utpal Dutt, Anil Chatterjee, Tarun Roy and later – Ramaprasad Banik, Sudipto Chatterjee and Kharaj Mukherjee. It is their vision, philosophy and ideologies that encourage us to carry on as an instrument of social change.
With such an illustrious history to look back at, one challenge constantly face is to outshine our own selves. With each play we stage, our attempt is to innovate. We believe in training students not only in the art of theatre but also allow them develop their own talents and above all awaken in them, the voice of reason, compassion and social awareness.
With the indefatigable enthusiasm and guidance of Professor Ashis Kumar Siddhanta, HOD, Department of Chemistry, we have secured first prize in all of the 46 consecutive competitions that we have participated in the last two decades. We have also staged plays for exhibition. Tongues and dialects have never been an obstacle. We have staged unilingual as well as multilingual plays with equal ease.
- In 1991, XTS developed a new concept in contemporary theatre. Named by Late Khaled Chowdhury as ‘Collage Theatre’ the play ‘Jibonerjonney, Bhalobasharjonney’ combined various forms of art like song, dance, music and mime with acting and dialogue. The play was later taken up as the subject of a documentary film that received widespread acclamation.
- Another theatre collage, ‘From Dirt to dust’, won the first prize in the Malhar Youth Festival (2000), in Mumbai; 60 Colleges from all over India participated in this competition. In 2001, XTS staged another experimental play ‘The Rebirth’; over 40 students participated in this ‘large scale, energetic spectacle, with exemplary and diverse creative inputs of choreography, live songs and music’ (from The Telegraph, October 19, 2001). This is perhaps the only play in which the late Pandit Kanan rendered the music for the song ‘Tum Sab Jantey Ho’.
- More recently (2009), in collaboration with the St. Xavier’s College Alumni Association (SXCAA), the XTS staged an opera entitled ‘A Medical Crisis – Revisited’ to celebrate 150 years of theatre in St. Xavier’s College. Based on Parashuram’s (Rajshekhar Basu) classic ‘Chikitsha Sankat’, the play indeed created a stir in the Kolkata theatre circuit (from Sananda, November 15, 2009).
- The year 2012 saw one of our most illustrious and grandest projects yet. Aajir – the enslaved, based on the works of Mahashweta Devi, captivated the audience. The occasion was graced by the then Hon’ble Minister of State for Higher Education, Sri Bratya Basu and the Minister of State for Transport and Sports, Sri Madan Mitra on the first day and renowned Economist Educationist Sri Sugato Marjit,(the present Vice Chancellor, University of Calcutta) on the second. The inauguration of an Honours Department such as the new Bengali Honours Department with a play is an unprecedented event even in the glorious history of St. Xavier’s College. The crux of the play points to the irrefutable fact that even today in the remote corners of Purulia District, the gruesome concept of bonded labour is still persistent. When crops fail, peasants are forced to sell themselves to wealthy moneylenders. The pact of slavery binds the peasant and his descendants to absolute serfdom to the master in exchange for only food and clothing. The social pecking order of the poor oppressed tribes living in great misery in the secluded Ajodhya hills of Purulia has also been brilliantly depicted through this six act play.
- We have successfully staged ‘Hacchoo!!’ which is an adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s unforgettable creation ‘The Death of a Clerk’ on November 3, 2014. The play was a stunning display of ‘Black Comedy’ that is characteristic of many of Chekhov’s writings. The short operatic production involved live music, dance, singing and acting by the past and present students of St. Xavier’s College. The ‘movie-scene’ in particular, was very special. The play revealed the teamwork, talent and dedication of the young Xaverians, who made it look thoroughly professional. The music was scored by Professor Abhijit Roy (Jadavpur University) and the choreography by Gautam Upadhyay. The play was preceded by a welcome address by Fr. Felix Raj, the Principal of the College, and the screening of a 1947 film “Night Journey” (courtesy: American Center, Kolkata), choreographed by the legendary American choreographer and dancer, Martha Graham.
‘Hacchoo!!’ outlines the comic irony of a government clerk who accidently sneezes on his superior officer and then due to shame and fear of reprisal awaiting him on the following day, commits suicide. Due to the emphatic response from the audience, we had to put on another show on February 14, 2015.This time the special input was a completely revitalised Musical Arrangement by the eminent violinist, Sri Anubrata Ghatak. The applause and approbation only outshone itself when compared to the first show. Bikeler Pratidin (a prominent evening daily) published a review of the play, expressing astonishment at the quality of work put forth by amateur college students, most of whom have had little prior experience in theatre.
For the current academic year, we will continue to groom new students, honing their diverse talents and training them to harness their unique faculties in a theatrical perspective by conducting a number of workshops.
(The author, Arindam Roy, is the Former Secretary of the Xaverian Theatrical Society, and presently a Graduate student at the University of Bristol, U. K.)