Kamal Saha

Bengali Language Initiative

Grant Period: Over one year

Kamal Saha began as a theatre enthusiast and collector, and gradually turned his amateur interest into a serious, scholarly project of sourcing and documenting the history of Bengali theatre. He has been sourcing and collecting documents for the last 25 years and has neatly arranged them in separate files for each year, beginning with 1795. He set up the Bangla Natyakosh Parishad in 1993 to help scholars and researchers, and generate public awareness about the history of Bengali theatre. Other than writing a series of essays and books in Bengali on various aspects of Bengali theatre, he has been painstakingly working on a ten-volume encyclopaedia in Bengali. This grant to Mr Saha supports the first phase of a three-stage project involving (1) the preparation of the manuscripts of the encyclopaedia, (2) the publication of the first three volumes and (3) the creation of an Internet archive of documents on Bengali theatre. The encyclopaedia will trace the history of Bengali theatre from its inception in 1795 all the way to 2000, through chronological and alphabetically-organised entries. The grant will enable Mr Saha to organise the entries and prepare the final manuscripts for publication.

Mr Saha is quick to point out that he has limited his entries to sources in print. Each volume of the encyclopaedia will have four categories––plays, playwrights, theatre groups and miscellaneous­­––under which information and its source will be collated. In Mr Saha’s estimate, there will be approximately 50,000 entries under plays, 3,000 under playwrights, 10,000 under theatre groups, and 7,000 under miscellaneous, spread across the ten volumes. The encyclopaedia will also comprise visual material like posters, pamphlets, advertisements, tickets, photographs and even legal documents pertaining to Bengali theatre. Additional textual materials like introductions to a play by playwrights and directors, personal letters having a bearing on theatre history, and reviews of plays that have contributed to theatre criticism in Bengali, will be included. However, since the primary purpose of the encyclopaedia is to collate sources in order to provide a chronological overview of Bengali theatre, all the visuals and textual materials in Mr Saha’s collection will not find a place in the ten volumes. The purpose of the Internet archive will be to fill this gap and allow serious researchers access to all visual and textual materials in his collection.

Many researchers in India and abroad have already accessed Mr Saha’s rare collection of documents. The Bangla Natyakosh Parishad has also been publishing essays and features on various aspects of Bengali theatre in theatre magazines in Bengali. IFA was keen to make a large grant to the trust to support all three stages of this initiative. However, the absence of a dissolution clause in the trust deed compelled us to break down the grant into two phases and start by making a small individual grant to Mr Saha for the preparation of the manuscripts. He has been advised to apply for the insertion of the dissolution clause, so that the next grant, which would subsidise the publication of three volumes of the encyclopaedia and cover the cost of creating the Internet archive, can be made to the trust. While he is engaged in preparing the manuscripts, Mr Saha will finalise a publication contract with a Bengali publisher with an optimal distribution network in both West Bengal and Bangladesh.

The eminent theatre director, Bibhas Chakraborty, will serve as Mr. Saha’s mentor, for which IFA will provide him an honorarium. The current grant to Kamal Saha and the follow-up grant to the trust will significantly expand the resources available to theatre researchers in the country and abroad. It will also make available a first-of-its-kind Bengali encyclopaedia on the history of its theatre to a larger readership.