Guwahati Gyan | Kumar Bhaskar Natya Mandir
The present Kumar Bhaskar Natya Mandir in Uzanbazar, Guwahati was constructed in 1912. The ‘golden age’ of Assamese theatre towards the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century saw the Kamrup Natya Samity, a temporary stage for theatrical activities, being upgraded to the Kumar Bhaskar Natya Mandir in 1923 in Guwahati.
The first regular wooden stage for performing drama was set up at Guwahati in the 1880s at the residence of the Buzarbaruahs at Latasil, which was known as Natya Mandir. In the earthquake of 1897 Natya Mandir was completely destroyed. Around the same time Arya Natya Mandir was established, which became the centre of cultural activities of Guwahati.
Though it was under the management of the prominent Bengalis of the town, both Assamese and Bengali cultural programmes were held regularly. However, an unfortunate incident occurred revolving around a drama festival organised in connection with the coronation of George V in 1912 at Arya Natya Mandir. As a result, some Assamese gentlemen decided to establish a new theatre hall of their own for staging “original Assamese drama” and therein lies the genesis of Kumar Bhaskar Natya Mandir. It was initially named Guwahati Public Hall.
The plot originally belonged to the Ugratara Devalaya and was acquired with due permission of the lessee Nabin Chandra Bardoloi. Fund-raising started with a donation of Rs 600 by Chidananda Choudhury of Panbazar. The tin roof for the hall was procured at Rs 400. Its construction was completed in 1915.
The same year, Kamrupa Natya Samiti was formed with Gopinath Bordoloi as secretary and Raghunath Choudhury as the stage manager. The Samiti took complete responsibility for the hall and the stage. The very first screen of the stage depicted a scene from Ramachandra’s Setubandhan, painted by one Shyama Das, who had come from Dhaka.
A decade later, with a handsome donation received from Mahendranath Barua, a planter from Golaghat, the hall was thoroughly renovated and it was then, from 1924, the hall was named Kumar Bhaskar Natya Mandir (KBNM) after Kumar Bhaskara Barman, the former ruler of Kamarupa.
In 1939, Rs 4,445 and six annas were collected from public donations, and with this money, the hall was thoroughly renovated. In the 1940s, Guwahati Sandhya Sanmelani was established on its premises which added a new dimension in the cultural life of the town. With regular drama and cultural programmes, Natya Mandir got a new lease of life.
It was decided that only original Assamese drama would be staged at the hall, instead of Bengali drama in translation. Flashback on stage was first introduced in Assam by Sarbeswar Chakravarty when he staged Abhiman. The first co-acting in KBNM was performed on August 5, 1950 when Prabin Phukan’s ‘Pratibad’ was staged. The ladies’ cast included Baruna Mukarjee, Reba Das, Minu Patra, Kausalya Das, Reba and Mina Dutta. Litterateur Atul Chandra Hazarika has termed the period 1937 to 1960 as the “golden age” of this hall.
On two occasions, KBNM remained closed for an unusually long time, once in 1929-30, during the National Movement and again in June 1942 during World War II. After Independence, however, the hall again got back its life with great personalities of the socio-cultural life of Assam joining it.
For about 25 years since 1975, theatre activities in this hall remained suspended, as its dilapidated condition was not conducive to staging modern drama. It got a new lease of life with the inauguration of its renovated auditorium by Indian Oil Corporation Limited in May 2000. The total cost of the project was Rs. 47,39,000. The renovated Natya Mandir has a capacity of 290 seats, with state of the art interiors, electrical and sound system, and comfortable chairs.
Credit: Dipankar Banerjee
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