Usha Ganguly, vivacious ‘Himmat Mai’ of Hindi theatre will continue to enthrall us through her work

The ‘Himmat Mai’ of Indian theatre, eminent theatre-director-actor-activist of Kolkata based ‘Rangakarmee’, Usha Ganguly passed away this morning of cardiac arrest

Usha Ganguly
Usha Ganguly
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Girish Shrivastava

The ‘Himmat Mai’ of Indian theatre, eminent theatre-director-actor-activist of Kolkata based ‘Rangakarmee’, Usha Ganguly passed away this morning of cardiac arrest. The Sangeet Natak Akademi awardee-1998, doyen of Hindi theatre, Usha Ganguly will be remembered for her outstanding body of works, including Mahabhoj, Himmat Mai, Rudali, Court Martial, Antaryatra, Gudiya Ghar and dozens of other remarkable productions in the realm of modern theatre. The ‘mallika’ of priceless smiles, towering grit and determination, Usha will forever live on the stage of Indian theatre.

Born in 1945 in Jodhpur, Rajasthan, in a family from village Nerva in Uttar Pradesh, Usha Ganguly learnt Bharatnatyam dance and later moved to Kolkata, where she studied at Shri Shikshayatan College, Kolkata and did her master’s degree in Hindi literature.

Usha Ganguly, vivacious ‘Himmat Mai’ of Hindi theatre will continue to enthrall us through her work

She started her career as a teacher at Bhowanipur Education Society College, Calcutta, an undergraduate college affiliated with University of Calcutta, in 1970. Also in the same year, she started acting with Sangeet Kala Mandir and working on her first play Mitti Ki Gadi (based on Mrichchakatikam – 1970 by Shudrak), where she played the role of Vasantsena. She continued teaching as a Hindi Lecturer at Bhowanipur Ediucation Society College, till her retirement in 2008 and practised theatre alongside.

She formed a theatre group, Rangakarmee, in January 1976. Initially, since she was trained as a dancer, the group invited outside directors, like MK Anvase, who directed Mother, Tripti Mitra directed Gudiya Ghar, an adaptation of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, besides Rudra Prasad Sengupta and Vibhash Chakravorty, before she started directing herself, having trained under Tripti Mitra and Mrinal Sen.

Usha Ganguly, vivacious ‘Himmat Mai’ of Hindi theatre will continue to enthrall us through her work

She started directing plays in the 1980s and soon her energetic style and disciplined ensemble work with young, large casts brought a resurgence of Hindi theatre in the city. Her important productions include Mahabhoj (Great Feast) in 1984, based on Mannu Bhandari’s novel, Ratnakar Matkari’sLok Katha (Folktale)in 1987, Holi by playwright Mahesh Elkunchwar in 1989, and Rudali (1992), her own dramatised version of a story by Mahashweta Devi, Himmat Mai, an adaptation of Brecht’s Mother Courage and notably Court Martial written by playwright Swadesh Deepak. She wrote a play Kashinama (2003), based on a story, Kaane Kaun KumatiLagi from the Kashinath Singh’s classic work, Kashi Ka Assiand an original play Khoj.

She also worked on the script of Raincoat (2004) a Hindi film based on O Henry’s The Gift of the Magi, directed by Rituparno Ghosh.

Usha Ganguly, vivacious ‘Himmat Mai’ of Hindi theatre will continue to enthrall us through her work

She also translated and adapted plays into Hindi. Rangakarmee started its education wing in the 1990s. After that it started regularly taking its repertoire on tour across India and undertaking education extension activities in theatre with underprivileged people.

In 2005, Rangakarmee was the only Indian theatre group to perform at the Theatre der Welt Festival in Stuttgart, Germany. It staged the play Rudali at “Punj Pani festival” at Lahore in 2006. The group staged its first multilingual production, Bhor about the minds of inmates of a drug rehabilitation centre in August 2010.

Usha Ganguly, vivacious ‘Himmat Mai’ of Hindi theatre will continue to enthrall us through her work

Apart from the thespian Shyamanand Jalan of Padatik (established 1972), Usha Ganguly was the only other most prominent theatre director to practise Hindi theatre in Kolkata, which is largely Bengali speaking. She was also honoured by the West Bengal Government as the best actress for the play Gudiya Ghar. She created plays in which subaltern protagonists confront their social realities of disenfranchisement and oppression.

“No fears, no fears, be safe”, she reassured us in the wake of the present pandemic situation with an audio clip of her performance from the play Antaryatra, in which she says, “Mirabai has told us, ‘Even if the greatest calamity befalls me, Mira will not stray from the path of her Lord.’ To stay true to your quest and keep striving is to keep living. I will also live. I have also lived.” Yes, she will always live in on the Stage, enlivening millions of hearts and theatre enthusiasts across the globe. The show must go on.

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