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Anti-Realism in Badal Sarkar’s Ebong Indrajit

Realism refers generally to any artistic or literary portrayal of life in a

faithful, accurate manner, unclouded by false ideals, literary
conventions, or misplaced aesthetic glorification and beautification of
the world. It is a theory or tendency in writing to depict events in
human life in a matter-of-fact, straightforward manner. It is an attempt
to reflect life "as it actually is". The theatre of Realism investigated and
spoke about real people in everyday situations, dealing with common
problems. It was, and is, a theatre that takes an unflinching look at the
way things really are in the world. Writers of realist theatre in their
works desire to present life as it really happens to people. Their
intention is to illuminate humankind’s struggles and concerns in a
straightforward way. An emphasis on behavior and tough decisions,
believable dialogue and common everyday settings are some of the
tenets of realistic theatre. Works of Ibsen, Stanislovsky and Chekov and
American relists like Eugene O’neil, Arthur Miller and Tennessee
Williams are good examples of the realistic theatre.

The Anti-Realistic movement also known as symbolism began in the

1880s in Paris as a joint venture of artists, painters, essayists,
playwrights, sculptors and poets. If realism was the art of depicting
reality as the ordinary men and women might see it, symbolism in
contrast would explore by the means of images and metaphors, the
inner realities that cannot be directly seen or literally perceived. Freud’s
psychoanalysis was published during the same time which provided
new source of material for the stage. The realist versus symbolists
confrontation affected every aspect of theatre production. Symbolists
inspired directors, designers who worked side by side with playwrights
who were drastically altering the art of the stage and the stage décor to
accommodate the new dramas that surged into the theatres.
Moreover, the advent of the electrical stage lights opened up limitless
opportunities for stylizing the drama. The use of spot lights and
shadows and the post impressionism art led to dramatic changes in set
design and costume design leading to exoticism and fantasy. This led to
a new way of portraying the reality. Where the actors of realistic
theatre were limited in their resources to project the reality, antirealist
artists enhanced the portrayal by symbols, parables and allegory,
further it makes explicit use of the theatricality of the theatre. In anti-
realistic theatre characters represent more than individuals or
personality types. In antirealistic theatre characters represent forces of
nature, moral positions, human instincts entities such as death or fate.
Examples of Anti-Realism can be found in the absurd plays of Ionesco
and Beckett, theatre of alienation of Brecht and surrealism of Antoine

Evam Indrajit (or Ebong Indrajit) (And Indrajit) (1962) has been
recognized as a milestone in the history of modern Indian theatre.
About its significance, Satyadev Dubey rightly comments in 1989 that,
"it is only in relation to Indian theatre history that Evam Indrajit really
makes its presence felt; otherwise it is just a very good, sensitively
written play, like many others written in the last decade in India". It
breaks away from the well-established realistic techniques of the day to
create a more impressionistic theatre, new to the Indian stage. Its
existentialist tone creates the first anxious protagonists in modern
Indian theatre overcome by the burden of history and the emasculating
effects of middle-class urban life.

Badal Sircar shakes off all the conventions of conventional drama. As

the curtain is pulled, a writer is seen on the stage, sitting with his back
to the audience and scribbling something on paper. He then tears it up,
only to show his inability to write something more meaningful. Thus at
the very beginning Sircar breaks apart from the rules and norms set by
realist theatre. Later we find the fourth wall of the stage broken as the
writer interacts with the audience and the players Amal, Vimal, and
Kamal appear from the audience. Sircar wants to close the gap between
the stage and the audience. The technique is both absurd and
surprising but very effective as Sircar is easily able to convey his
message that the characters of his play are not mere textbook
characters but come from within the common mass. This intimacy was
not possible in the realist theatre and hence, Ebong Indrajit’s anti
realist trait is very well found from the beginning act.

The play has a cast of seven characters — most of them stereotypes of

men and women in contemporary urban India: Auntie/Mother, Manasi,
Amal, Vimal, and Kamal. These characters are not well defined and are
mere symbols projecting the middle class of contemporary urban
society of Calcutta. They lack individuality and depth and are presented
in a manner that they showcase not one individual but the entire
middle class society. The characters are living symbols and act like a
mirror to the urban audience as they feel and suffer the same problems
as the players in the play do.

The play has only a shadow of a plot, eschews realism, and departs
from accepted norms of 'conflict' and 'denouement'. Its collage of
moments and fragments of situations is a complete departure from the
well-established, realistic nineteenth-century conventions of the
Westernized Indian urban stage. Through the illogical, incoherent and
cyclical plot of the play, Sircar aptly reflects the mechanical, humdrum
and monotonous nature of the present way of life. The humdrum
existence of the contemporary society is presented with the help of
repetitive dialogues and phrases. The whole structure of the play well
suggests the same idea. The cyclic routine of the society goes on in
which the characters change but the events remain the same. As in the
starting of the play, Auntie is seen asking Writer to stop writing and
then comes Manasi later in the play asking Writer to do the same. It is
quite strange and awkward to Auntie seeing Writer writing, by avoiding
basic biological functions. The writer has a different philosophy by
which he prefers having a purpose in life to paying attention on the
basic biological functions.

Meaningless human associations are reflected through the use of

inadequate language in the play. Word-play and playfulness of
language is seen at several places. The deliberate elliptic dialogues
present the fragmented and meaningless activities of the pseudo-
modern man being tangled in materialistic competition and gains.
Sircar has beautifully used the technique of writing a play within the
play, known as meta-theatrical technique, when in the play Writer is
seen endeavoring to write a play and choosing or searching the perfect
hero for his play. All the external conflicts of the characters present the
internal conflicts at depth in the play, projecting psychological realism.
There is no static characterization as the characters interchange their
roles, and Writer becomes the boss as well as the peon in the office.

Though the play Evam Indrajit is seen to be an expression of despair yet

the dreams of Amal, Vimal, Kamal and Indrajit project a ray of hope.
The linguistic devices used in the play, and the dialogues of the
characters, attract a wide ranging audienceand readers. The characters
represent the common men of the society suffering from a lot of
external and internal conflicts. Out of all these factors, the play Evam
Indrajit is found to be unconventional. The play is contemporaneous,
inventive and replete with absurdist elements. The characters of the
play are seen raising a voice against man’s existential crisis, his
absurdity, death-wish, unemployment and anarchy prevalent in the
society. Life is to be lived with full enthusiasm, zeal and zest, in place of
being relegated to death. So the desire for death is rejected in the play
along with some other negative forces as cruelty, brutality, hypocrisy
and foolishness, etc. The language of the play is ironical mixed with
lyrical tone and touch. Myth is also evident in the play in the instance of
the name ‘Indrajit’ as in the Ramayana Indrajit was the name of
Ravana’s son who was later known as Meghnad. He used the covering
of clouds to hide his identity and the same was done in the play by
Indrajit who adopted a fake name as Nirmal to hide his identity

Sircar uses a dramatic trick lest his play should lapse into sequential
reflections of humdrum events. He places Writer and Indrajit sitting by
each other. At the time, when Writer is reading the letter, Indrajit is
silent and the moment Writer stops, Indrajit starts speaking. Writer’s
reading of the letter and Indrajit’s speech goes on in continuation.
Many facts are disclosed in this way, as Indrajit has returned from
London, he has been married to some other girl but not Manasi and
Manasi is continuing her job of a schoolteacher at a distant place from
her home. Through the ongoing conversation, one gets aware of the
sadistic thoughts of Indrajit which seem to arise out of an utter lack of

Such dramatic tricks and devices are unknown in realistic theatre and
are the very essence of anti-realism. Thus, through the employment of
nonlinear narrative, absurdist qualities, unconventional techniques and
myth, Badal Sircar’s Ebong Indrajit can be adjudged to be an Anti-
Realist play.