Maya Ghosh (born 1943) is an actor who began her career in Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA), Dum Dum Branch, in the play Saoñtali Bidroho (Santhal Revolt, 1961) by Ajitesh Bandyopadhyay. When Bandyopadhyay left IPTA to form Nandikar, she became one of the founders of the group. Her first performance in Nandikar was in the role of the mother in Pirandello’s play Six Characters in Search of an Author, adapted into Bengali as Natyokarer Sondhane Chhoti Choritro by Rudraprasad Sengupta. In 1966, when thirteen members of Nandikar split from the group and formed a new group Theatre Workshop in the same year, she joined the new group, eventually becoming its President. Here, she worked on landmark plays such as Chak Bhanga Modhu (written by Manoj Mitra), Rajrakta (written by Mohit Chattopadhyay and directed by Bibhash Chakraborty), Bela Obelar Golpo, Vietnam, and several other plays. Besides these, she has acted in countless office club productions, as well as in other groups.
Below are excerpts from her performances in two plays – Saoñtali Bidroho (1961, written by Ajitesh Bandypadhyay), and Sitayan (2008, written by the poet Mallika Sengupta). She performed them at Tepantar in December 2016, as part of the three-day-long Tepantar Theatre Mela in Satkahania village in Bankura, organised by the theatre group Ebong Amra.
Maya Ghosh performs excerpts from Sitayan and Saoñtali Bidroho
Rusati Sen has compiled a book on Ghosh’s work, Maya Ghosh: Manchoi Jeeban. The book was compiled through completing extensive interviews with the actress. Here are selected excerpts from the book translated into English.
On Maya Ghosh’s Life Now
It’s better, really, if I don’t talk about the kind of work I do. For one line of dialogue, and for one shot of my expression, I have to sometimes wait for more than six hours. In addition to that, the person who I am addressing the dialogue may not be present in the sets when I am shooting. Maybe (s)he’s a very famous artist; (s)he’s finished her work here and left for somewhere else. I am acting all by myself. A less busy, lesser-known actress like me will have to deliver her dialogues in the absence of the person to whom my dialogues are delivered. Yet I do it. Didn’t I say this before? If I say no to TV completely, what will I eat? It takes some time to get the money, but I get it at least! I don’t really have an alternative in front of me now; working here, I get a handful sum together; I spend it slowly. I don’t know when will I get to work next. If I get four thousand each month I can manage things quite well. I live by myself; I have a place to rest my head. But I am hesitant to spend all the four thousand. Somehow I manage my month with two and a half thousand; don’t keep a maid – there’s no guarantee to my employment.
The year: 2011. Who is this person who gets four thousand per month but hopes to spend no more than two and a half thousand? A lot of people will easily recognise her if I say this is the woman who gave life to Sumati’s character in Bela Obelar Golpo, adapted from Arnold Wesker’s play Chicken Soup with Barley by Ashok Mukhopadhyay for Theatre Workshop… When Maya Ghosh makes no complaints and gives details about her life, like the ones I have quoted above, it is the listener who’s hangs her head in shame.
On Satyen Mitra’s Murder and Theatre Workshop’s Play Rajrakta
On 25 January, Theatre Workshop performed Rajrakta at Rangana theatre for the first time. Bibhash Chakraborty directed Mohit Chattopadhyay’s play Guinea Pig, and staged it as Rajrakta… Bibhash Chakraborty has written about this play in the commemorative edition of Theatre Workshop’s tabloid in memory of Satyen Bose, published on 7 May, 1971:
I don’t know how important this word is for others, but, for me, for other members of Theatre Workshop, this word has a significance of its own. ‘Rajrakta’ will remain in our history as the time when we emerged out of a deep hole of hopelessness and overcame our predicament… After 1967, we could not even stage a notable play… There was not a single play that we could have staged as a minor production… Our group was formed in the year of the food revolt (1966). Politically, the movement marched ahead and led to the United Front government in 1969. Within the Left movement, we could see several mistakes, disagreements. On the other hand, our rivals or their armed response, was wondering how these lowly people, who had risen up in power, could be shown their place once again. They tried to destroy our dreams in such a way that it would be impossible to even close our eyes, let alone dream of a new red dawn… There was considerable pressure from various ends on those who were talking about class struggle, or the labouring workers… In the world of theatre, whatever we had built as political theatre was almost over in fear of repression, confusion, and despair…
In such a situation, the members of Theatre Workshop got hold of Mohit Chattopadhyay’s Guinea Pig. In Bibhash Chakraborty’s words, ‘The capitalist political system kept us like guinea pigs. It allowed us to exist in the boundaries it had created for us; in the jobs it made, or did not make for us; in the freedom it gave us, and snatched away at will. In effect, it wanted us to exist or wither away for its own existence. But human beings are human beings – not guinea pigs. We had learnt this from our history. Where else could we find such a contemporary picture of our crisis and resistance? The members of Theatre Workshop read the play, and instantly decided that we would stage the play’ (ibid). There was an additional advantage. For a group like Theatre Workshop, which, at that time, had very few members, this play had only four characters. Among them, there was one woman. Bibhas wrote, ‘Maybe this play was written for us’ (ibid). Yes, Maya Ghosh performed the ‘woman’.
Those who remember watching this play will know how striking Maya’s performance was. She kept all the characteristics of her acting style and yet, created something new with it. I shouldn’t have remembered so much. I was a student in the seventh standard. This was the first time I had seen Maya Ghosh perform. May be, because of my curiosity at such a young age, I had overheard audiences say in hushed tones – really, she has some talent! None of us can make out from her acting. Yes, yes, the new person playing the ‘man’ is Ram Mukhopadhyay – no, no, it’s Maya Ghosh who was talking about power. Satyen Mitra, who has been murdered – he played the ‘man’ before – Maya was supposed to get married to him…
Today, she says, ‘Nothing happened of it, isn’t it? Neither of us had the money to sit in a restaurant and order a meal. All we could manage was walk for miles with peanuts wrapped in newspapers. Marriage was far off the charts. My father, younger brother, younger sister – all of them depended on me. How could I think of myself when there was no other way by which they could support themselves? But, had Satyen been alive, my life would have definitely been different.’
After Satyen Mitra was killed mercilessly on 6 May, 1971, several newspapers reported the incident… There were several protests. Jyoti Basu raised the issued in the Vidhan Sabha. Obituaries were written in newspapers. Samik Bandyopadhyay’s write-up came out in the magazine Enact. The entire theatre fraternity came together; Mohit Chattopadhyay dedicated Rajrakta to Satyen Mitra; Dipen Bandyopadhyay wrote a poem. But how would Theatre Workshop react to this? How would they protest? Their weapon was theatre. They decided to stage Rajrakta and register their protest against Satyen Mitra’s murder; various other political murders would be invoked in the play. Bibhash Chakraborty had written:
It was such a fearful task for us; for those who acted alongside Satyen babu; for the new person who played his part… In the first scene, when the woman says, ‘I’ve done the right thing by not calling out. Yet, we will hold meetings; visit each other; love each other; we’ll do whatever we want to do. Listen, we have to throw such kind of philosophy away – I’ve had enough of it. You were born against your wish, you will die against your wish! Let’s leave such bullshit and, instead, say we are here; we will live for many years; we will try and live in a happy, comfortable way. This is a much bigger truth, do you understand?” While saying this dialogue, Maya has almost broken down, we too have begun to cry; so have those who were watching the rehearsal. Immediately after this, the “man” says, “We want to live happily, but who let’s us do it? The woman, “Who’s not letting us?” The man, “We both know who isn’t letting us live” We have make others who what both these characters know. Who didn’t let our Satyen babu live, who isn’t letting lakhs and crores of people live? That’s why we have to gather all our strength and create this play once again. This was our only resolve.