Ramaprasad Banik started his career in theatre in 1962 with ‘Bohurupee. ‘Since then there was no looking back for Mr. Banik. He has acted in the major productions of Bohurupee which consisted of plays like ‘Putul Khela’, ‘Dashachakra’, ‘Chhera Tar’, ‘Chhar Addhaye’ and ‘Raktakarabi’ directed under Sambhu Mitra whom he worships as a true disciple. He also acted under the guidance of Tripti Mitra and established himself as a Bengali theatre artist and playwright.
He has independently directed two plays which are ‘Atotai’ and ‘Kalbihanga’. He along with a couple of friends established ‘Chena Mukh’ in the year 1980. Later he quit ‘Chena Mukh’ and founded his own theatre group and under his individual banner plays like ‘Tempest’, ‘Antar Bahir’, ‘Bhablai Bhalo’ etc has been projected. He has also been directing for groups such as Taki Natyam, Barasat Anushilani, Ajantik, Annya Theatre.
He has been awarded national scholarship and has also been acknowledged with awards by All India Critic Circle and Paschim Banga Natya Akademi. His theatre has certainly taken him to places and has been acknowledged world wide. He has visited USA, Canada and UK with his theatre group.
Apart from his devotion towards theatre, he has also worked in numerous feature films and acted as a major television actor and director of daily soaps.
He is associated with Nehru Children Museum, Kolkata where he trains children the tricks of theatre and direction and his efforts have received tremendous acclamation.
VP: Tell us something about the course of your career as a theatre artist?
RPB: I started my career in 1976 and before that I enacted a role in a children’s movie which was a very famous one ‘Panna’. But I could not do it very professionally, because I was casted in the main role, only working in the film was my joy. After my graduation I started my professional career. I was a commerce student, I got appointments in several banks but my father was a big support and he told me to do whatever I like. ‘You love acting, if you want to be in the creativity, go and do it..’ He had said and So I jumped into my professional career as a theatre artist.
VP: What is the most memorable and challenging incident of your career?
RPB: The most memorable incident in theatre happened in 1974 at that time I was with Bohurupi, the famous organization of theatre and I was acting in a play ‘Jodi Arekbar’. It was a role that consisted of acting, mime, dancing and singing- all combined together. It was a role of a God who comes out from the Sea once in a year to please the people and goes back under the Sea. After I finished the show and was in the make up room, a person who came inside. He was an aged person and approached me. I thought I have seen him somewhere but i was not so sure.. I went to wash the makeup off my face and he told me ‘oh you are so young’, the person was no other than Uday Shankar Ji and he offered to teach me dancing free of cost. I had to turn him down and I told him “I diligently believe in acting; if you teach me dancing I should be a dancer.” After that day, I went to meet him quite often till he was alive. That was the most heightened moment of my life.
VP: What is the relevance of theatre to Society?
RPB: In Bengali, Shri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa has said ‘Natok e lok sikha hoy’ which implies that you can educate all the people in every sphere of all economic stage whether the person is learned or not, everybody gets a message through theatre because theatre is a media where people look at the life as they are, it is like a mirror for the society. It’s a finding of identity and you can discover yourself in theatre as a person when you watch a theatre so of course it has a social relevance. Sir Berles Betts a famous German playwright used to do theatre as a social objective. In German he used to say ‘ver chom cho’- viewing from a distance. It has a social purpose. Now in a theatre the audience is carried away by the emotions. The object is very important. Yes through theatre lok sikha hoy. People can be educated.
VP: What is your take on modern theatre or mainstream theatre?
RPB: When you use the word modern, well i really don’t understand it. What is modern? It means much to me whether the truth is there or not. I don’t know what is modern, what does one mean by modern as Tagore stated that a river goes on a river bed and it joins the sea. Now sometimes the river meanders and takes few curves and water flows from those curves but cannot reach the sea. Automatically the curves which are created, the water comes back into the mainstream again. It doesn’t reach the sea. So the river bed is most important. If anybody says that why should I walk on the river bed it is like why should I walk in the known accepted form? We want another form. Yes we can go for other forms which can be stated as modern. But whatever is the form your main aim should be to reach the goal. So if that is a modern form- yes then that’s true. But theatre is theatre and if somebody says that I am modern then he is just a curve from the river bed and he has to come back to it. I feel that way.
VP: What is the problem that Bengali theatre is facing now?
RPB: Not only Bengali theatre, all over the world it is a problem now. The theatre which is valid, which is full of values, questions, identity, the subject, the organ which actually can identify the likes, can make a person a person stand in front of his own alternate ego. The plays which are rich in content value, in its presentation, in acting, that kind of theatre all over the world are not going good. In Bengali we say ‘monda’( not good). Audience for the theatre that we want to do is decreasing day by day. And on the other hand , theatre which are full of entertainment value but with no other values- no literature value, no social value, no point of understanding, no deeper thought, no deeper vein, no search for life, those theatre even in if you take the example of America, all of the American mainstream theatre those are full of entertainment value but no deeper value. They have colours, grandeurs, immense music which are loud, immense stunts, magic but are deprived of values.
The person who carries only his physique, it’s very difficult to find a soul in it. There is a separation in theatre- one is mainstream theatre and the other one is necessary theatre. So the mainstream theatre has a lot of audience as most people always choose something where they don’t have to give much time to think. They watch a theatre, enjoy it, and go back home, have their dinner, go to their offices and forget everything. So those are the kind of theatre is pulling audience all over the world not only in Bengal.
Still I would say that in Bengal the mainstream theatre exists no more. There are no Shyambazar theatre now, no public board. There are many group theatres which are suffering from huge economic losses but still they are working because they love to be in it and they want the participation of educated, understanding audience. We believe in that.
VP: How do you view the future of Bengali theatre today?
RPB: Well I am very optimistic about it. Because it is very fortunate that young people are getting interested. Once you get the young generation, the young blood, you have a hope, you have a dream that it will continue. So I feel that Bengali theatre has no point of death. It’s full of life. Very talented guys are joining theatre as actors, directors. So they will do their theatre in future with new form, ideology and values.
VP: Who according to you from the new generation directors can take the legacy of Bengali theatre forward?
RPB: Not anyone specifically but the movement is very good. I would not name anybody in person but many young people are putting their effort in this revolution if we are calling it a revolution (Natya Andolan). So there are people, there are comrades who have come, very interesting, and very talented people. So I would not name anybody specifically but I am very optimistic about it.
VP:Talking about films, how do you bridge commercial film and art film? Art films generally attract a certain group of audience and the commercial attracts a wider mass, so how do you think an art film (which has a social message) can be commercial and attract audience? How do you bridge that gap?
RPB: Look I only believe in a good film and a bad film. I don’t want to make a definite distinction about it- art film and commercial film. I only believe in the good and the bad. A film (commercial), with mass appeal and of course entertainment can have a very important social message. On the other hand a parallel made under the impression of an art film is an outright commercial film. So one must find it out first that is it a good film or a bad film? Whether it enriches my thoughts . Rather as commercial movie has much responsibility to educate the mass as it has a wide spread audience and therefore it can tell stories with social messages.
VP: You have been working with children for a long time. What do you possibly find in a child artist that makes you work with them over and over again?
RPB: When you work with children, the most important part is that the queries and questions are so innocent; they have such faith in their job and their teacher, that a teacher cannot just avoid or ignore them. A teacher also gets involved as it is such a big moral responsibility when children believe you. You have to give them your full support. Children, they have no fixed values. As and what you show them they learn likewise. So it is very important that while working with children you must be very careful. Not to do anything which will give them a wrong impression of life, always be positive with them. Not to snatch away their dreams. Talk about the colourful part of life and not the grey side.
Secondly when I work with children I forget my age. I feel so young. I get all my past years dedicated to theatre back and derive my energy by becoming a child with them. When I work with children it is like I am getting fresh oxygen to breathe. And the most important that the children sometimes asks questions and that makes you feel like a student as there is so much to learn from children. It’s not just teaching but also being taught some important lessons of life. Some queries make you feel very responsible and make you think that’ what I should teach my children’. So that keeps me working with them.
VP: As you said that the audience is sold to mainstream theatre and necessary theatre is getting a set back, do you think that the future of art forms are perishing? If yes then how could it be saved?
RPB: No I don’t think that the future of art will perish. It cannot happen. I am very optimistic about it. It cannot perish. A time comes when one feels that if it is at all necessary to be in the creative world? Are people not so sensitive to understand the feelings? Will they ever understand a book from the writer’s point of view? These difficult questions arise in every person’s life, attached with the creative world. But that does not mean that the future of art will perish! It cannot happen.
A very bad time may come, but that cannot uproot the cultures. Take the example of the great Rabindranath Tagore. It had been ages since he had composed those beautiful songs and generation after generation sing them. They did not perish. It is the cultural vein. Like Mahabharata written so many years ago still it is the most important epic of India. Why? Because of this cultural vein that attaches us to our roots. It can face a bad time, many obstacles can come but it will sustain as it has so far.
VP: Any message that you would like to give to the society or to yours peers?
RPB: Now as a worker of theatre, as any art form demands that life should be led to make this world beautiful. Everyone who wants a better life should remember that with a collective effort we can make this world a beautiful place.