Rangkarmee was founded by Usha Ganguly 47 years ago. Though Ganguly is no longer around, her committed group continues with her work with trained and disciplined youngsters, to produce and present plays, mainly in Hindi, at the twin theatre complex named Usha Ganguly Mancha and Binodini Keya Mancha, in South Calcutta. They also bestowed awards on noted theatre personalities for their rich contribution to theatre over the years.

When Usha Ganguly was alive, she created a special programme to celebrate Rangakarmee’s anniversary with a theatre festival, inviting theatre groups from across India to participate. They presented and performed abstracts from their own plays.

According to Tripti Mitra, who currently organises and manages the activities of the group, “the magic of life was created by our great teacher, guru, guide, Smt Usha Ganguli. Her immense power, knowledge and art of theatre brought life to thousands of artists on stage

“A symphony of music, dialogue, production, light, stage continued for years. The power of theatre is in the heart of Rangakarmee. It's a tradition, culture and movement. A journey which continues and we promise to give the best production and create the best actors with the blessings and teaching of Smt Usha Ganguli. Today we miss her, and we also follow her path.”

When she was alive, Ganguly initiated two different movements to further the cause of good theatre in West Bengal. One is the founding of Samanway 7, a unique theatre festival showcasing performances conceived and crafted exclusively by women, which evolved into a well-blended expression of feminist questions that have sustained through the ages.

Samanway 7 is not about theatre alone. It also includes dance performances that break, bend or redefine the rules of dance as they have been known, to make the content more important than the performance, render the performance as fluid and as free to offer several meanings for the audience.

The second unique enterprise was the beautifully organised premises, tellingly named Binodini-Keya Mancha and Rangakarmee Studio Theatre. After Ganguly’s demise, the latter was renamed Usha Ganguly Mancha.

Beautifully designed by the noted theatre person-and-architect Anubha Fatehpuria. This studio-theatre fills, in some way, the vacuum created due to the lack of performing spaces in the city. Theatre today cannot, and should not exist in a social, political, or emotional vacuum.

Theatre, according to Rangakarmee, has a socio-political context that is ever-evolving in terms of form, content, subject and its unfolding. The topicality of the subjects it deals with, thanks to the constant political consciousness of its founder Ganguly and her dedicated team is evident in every play it performs.

This year, the organisers, actors and activists of Rangakarmee have organised a four-day theatre festival named ‘Sankita’. It is scheduled to open on January 18, with the screening of Ganguly’s one-woman performance ‘Antaryatra’. On the second day, the group will present ‘Prayaschit’ directed by Neelachal Banerjee. On Day three, ‘Pashmina’ directed by Sajida Saji will be performed, and on the final day, the group will present ‘Abhi Raat Baaki Hai’ directed by Souti Chakraborty.

‘Antaryatra’ was designed and performed by Ganguly herself. In the play, she attempted to explore the Indian woman's psyche through a melange of characters. It took us through a personal journey in theatre. Ganguly played multiple women characters (Nora, Himmat Mai, Rudali, Kamla, Anima) on stage, and her experiences enriched her one-woman show.

‘Antaryatra’ was a tribute to at least a dozen crucial female heroines, played by Ganguly, who are representatives of real-life women. Each belonged to a distinct social space and yet bound in some way by the virtue of being a woman.

The word ‘Prayaschitt’ means redemption, atonement. This play is the Hindi translation of Margaret Wood’s one-act play ‘Day of Atonement’. Wood created plays with simple sets and lighting, knew the possibilities of a makeshift stage and wrote more parts for women than for men.

The play opens in a dark interior of a dowdy room, with a cooking stove in one corner where Marthe is cooking a soup for Otto who is out with his group. Jacob and Marthe are planning a dinner along with a bottle of priceless drink held as a gift for Dr.Krauss.

The set design takes you to an old, dilapidated room where electricity is absent and the darkness fills the air with doom, sadness and depression. Jacob and Marthe are dressed dowdily, unfolding the poverty they are living in, looking forward to Dr. Krauss who has saved their sick daughter Ilse who is still in hospital.

Destiny, or is it God, that plays its own role in granting, or denying redemption to Dr. Krauss? This keeps the question of forgiveness for evils done in the past being undercut by good deeds done in the present an unanswered and philosophical one.

It is a great performance indeed to take home with you. It mirrors today’s lack of atonement for their sins, by sinners we are surrounded by everywhere, be it a corporate bigwig, a politician in power, a mother-in-law torturing her daughter-in-law, or the police killing a man in custody. The list is endless.

On the third day, the play ‘Pashmina’ will be performed by the young and upcoming actors of Rangakarmee. Mrinal Mathur uses the pashmina shawl as a symbol of accepting grief, coping with loss and then seeking solace in the harmony it brings within three parents. One a Hindu couple, and the other, a Muslim father both of who lost their respective sons in Kashmir. The pashmina is a shawl and also an agency of love, creator of synthesis, and a coming to terms with personal loss that is tough for any parent to adjust to.

What is amazing about the play is the way the cast imaginatively uses the limited space of the proscenium floor at the Usha Ganguly Mancha. Different set pieces are changed within absolute darkness by the actors who move pieces of furniture to change the scene, and the situation.

Swishing, translucent curtains play hide and seek with the moving characters, adding to the intrigue of the ambience, while a colourful chorus group of singers and dancers steps in to offer some breathing space to the characters.

On the last day, the group will perform the stunning play ‘Abhi Raat Baaki Hai’. Jayant Pawar is a noted playwright and many of his plays have been made into films in Marathi. ‘Abhi Raat Baki Hai’ unfolds the story of how the textile strike in Mumbai in 1980 impacted on a single, low-middle-class Marathi family living in a working class area in the city.

Translated into Hindi by Kailash Sengar, it throws light on the socio-economic and political situation of Bombay in the last two decades of the last century. It was a time when globalisation was taking the world by storm and all the other industries were being shut. It was adapted into a film by Mahesh Manjrekar titled ‘City of Gold’.

This family offers a microscopic example of hundreds of similar families who were fragmented, broken, disturbed, destroyed during and following the long textile strike in Mumbai.

The play is directed by Souti Chakraborti who has won the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award and was also awarded the Manohar Singh Smriti Puraskar for his contribution to Light Design. The stage opens on a low middle class family where the mother is the sole earning member who cooks for home delivered food supplied to families in the neighbourhood.

She cannot walk straight as she has an arthritic leg. The daughter is separated from her husband though the husband wants her back. The older of the two sons, lives in a dream world fantasising about an ideal Marxist, pseudo-intellectual world.

He is angry with the entire world because they cannot understand his writings though he does not write a single word but languishes on his bed, or walks out to get drunk on country liquor. The youngest son has lost his job and vents his anger on his helpless mother and sister, accusing the latter for breaking bread in her mother’s home.