25 Badal Sircar: Micchil (Theatre of the Oppressed: Augusto Boal)

Dr. Dibyakusum Ray

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This module is about the celebrated Bengali dramatist Badal Sircar, and more particularly about one of his plays Michil or Procession. You would be looking at a brief account of Sircar’s life and work and his career which earned him critical acclaim and then would concentrate on the play itself, exploring the different themes and concerns that revolve around it. This module would also contain occasional interesting facts about the playwright and the play, with some self-assessment questions to test your understanding of the play.


First staged in 1974, Micchil or Procession presents the absurdity of death by government authorized police brutality. A fine example of Sircar’s signature egalitarian ‘third theatre’, Micchil presents the chaos of death and oppression in the backdrop of Naxalite movement and the subsequent brutal rampage of the police by killing youth to suppress it. Micchil and a few of the earlier plays had a profound impact on contemporary theatre, especially after 1969 when Sircar started performing plays both indoors and beyond the proscenium, developing the use of the angan manch (courtyard stage) inspired by the direct communication techniques of Jatra rural theatre form. These techniques evolved through subsequent productions to eventually become his “Third Theatre”, a protest against prevalent commercial theatre establishment. Often performed in “found” spaces rather than rented theatre halls, without elaborate lighting, costumes or make-up, with participants rather than passive spectators, it added a new realism to contemporary dramaturgy, retaining thematic sophistication of socially committed theatre.




Badal Sircar (15 July 1925 – 13 May 2011), was born Sudhindra Sircar, in Calcutta, India. He was initially schooled at the Scottish Church Collegiate School. After transferring from the Scottish Church College, where his father was a history professor, he studied civil engineering at the Bengal Engineering College. In 1992, he finished his Master of Arts degree in comparative literature from the Jadavpur University in Calcutta. While working as a town planner in India, England and Nigeria, he entered theatre as an actor, moved to direction, but soon started writing plays, starting with comedies. Badal Sircar eventually established a new generation of anti- establishment theatre called the “Third Theatre” in an attempt to reach the audience and represent the maladies of everyday urban life.

While employed in Nigeria, he wrote his landmark play displaying the angst amongst the post-Independence youth, Evam Indrajit (And Indrajit) in 1963, published and performed in 1965 It was followed by Baaki Itihaash (Remaining History) (1965), Pralap (Delirium) (1966), Tringsha Shatabdi (Thirtieth Century) (1966), Pagla Ghoda (Mad Horse) (1967), Shesh Naai (There’s No End) (1969). Most of these plays were performed by the famous theatre group Bohurupee under the tutelage of Sombhu Mitra. In 1967, however, Sircar formed the “Shatabdi” theatre group, with the first production of Evam Indrajit.


After 1969 “Shatabdi” started performing plays both indoors and outside amidst people. This evolved the conception of angan manch (courtyard stage) with direct communication techniques of Jatra, leading way to his revolutionary “Third Theatre”. The rise of the third theatre was seen as a protest against the prevalent commercial theatre establishment. His famous play Sagina Mahato, marked his advent into arena stage, and the subsequent Michhil (Juloos), Bhoma, Basi Khobor, and Spartacus based on Howard Fast’s historical work, were played in rural areas in makeshift spaces with the audience sitting all around the space.


Sircar was awarded the Padma Shri in 1972, Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 1968 and the Sangeet Natak Akademi Fellowship- Ratna Sadsya, the highest honor in the performing arts by Govt. of India, in 1997. He died of cancer in 2011.




Sircar had very decided views regarding performance and communication to the audience.


Communication is essential in every art form; the artist communicates to other people through literature, music, painting, acting. But the methods of communication are different. A writer writes—he does not have to be present when his writing is being read. So it is with the painter and the sculptor. In cinema, the film artists do not have to be present when the film is being projected. But in the theatre, the performers have to be present when the communication takes place. This is a fundamental difference. Theatre is a live show, cinema is not. In theatre, communication is direct; in cinema it is through images. (Sircar, “Third Theatre”)


In an interview given to Shayoni Mitra, he explains his rationale behind the evolution of third theatre:


We realized that if we do theatre we are doing away with all the costly and



Sircar’s “Third Theatre” evolved particularly to integrate the audience with the performance. He had realized that in spite of evolved props, revolutionizing the audience-performer barriers and stage, proscenium theatre never manages to reach out to the audience. Moreover, conventional stage lights blanks out the audience away from the performance and the raised stage enhances the barrier between the audience and the performer. With the advent of the “third theatre”, there was direct and uninhibited communication between the performer and the audience. Moreover, it was free from the paraphernalia of conventional theatre; and also, it was offered at no cost to the audience facilitating the performing troupe to move in the rural areas (gram parikrama) without much ado. The following characteristics were particularly noticed in the “third theatre”:


3.1. Synthesis of Rural and Urban Theatre:


Sircar adopted the live performer and direct communication technique of the jatra tradition over the preoccupation with stage mechanism and elaborate stage lights. However, he addressed the themes of the post-independence angst, death, confusion and state authorized oppression of the urban sectors. This curious synthesis developed an alternative brand of theatre free to treat the multi-layered modernity.

3.2. Emphasis on Audience Participation:


Sircar attempted to develop an “intimate” theatre where audience will be able to participate in the performance instead of witnessing passively. In his plays, the staging is often done in a small clearing amongst the audience, where often the performers speak and act from the circle of audience.


3.3. Anti Proscenium Alternative Theatre:


In proscenium theatre elaborate stage set-ups, props, spotlight, costume, make-up etc. are used to create illusion of reality. But in the Third theatre emphasis is given on the performer’s body rather than set, props and costumes, thereby foregoingthe constraints of realistic depiction, encouraging the performers to use movements, rhythm, mime, formations, and contortions to express them physically. In proscenium theatre raised stage is used to keep distance from the spectator, whereas the third theatre offers the flexible and all inclusive angan manch.


3.4. Portability, Flexibility, and Inexpensiveness:


Without being encumbered by elaborate props, costume, stage set ups, lights and other baggage, the third theatre was free to actively seek newer performance grounds inexpensively. The stage direction was not tied to fixed set ups, and could be changed to adapt the changing performance space. This made the plays more performance centric rather than script based.


3.5. Influence of Western Performing Traditions:


Sircar synthesized the jatra traditions with the theatrical language of Western performers like Jerzy Grotowski, Joan MacIntosh, Judith Malina, Julian Beck, and Richard Schechner. But, critics have acknowledged that in spite of clear influence, Sircar’s third or free theatre can never be like Grotowski’s physical theatre because the conditions of performance are very different in India, and Sircar’s theatre was firmly grounded on its socio-political context.


3.6. Politically Conscious Theatre:

Sircar did not believe that theatre or any higher art form is dissociated with the politics of its time. An ardent member of the undivided Communist Party of India (CPI), Sircar voiced his beliefs of Democratic Socialism through his plays, in spite of his later alienation from CPI. Hottomalar Oparey (Beyond the Land of Hullaballoo) portrays life in a land of no money that operates according to the Communist principle of each to the best of his ability and to each according to his need. Michhil or Procession, voices the state sponsored atrocity and genocide in the name of anti-sedition measures during the Naxalite movement.


  • In 1972, Satabdi performed Spartacus, its first angan manch piece, presented in a room at Kolkata’s Academy of Fine Arts, itself an established venue of conventional theatre. This was his first major experiment in the direction of Third Theatre.
  • The other plays specially written for third theatre are Michhil (Procession), Bhoma, and Basi Khabar (Stale News). Michhil, performed in 1974, two years after Spartacus, in Ramchandrapur, a village in West Bengal, was the first play designed entirely for the open air.



In the beginning of the play script, Sircar wrote a short introduction for it reaffirming that Micchil is not a conventional stage play. It cannot be ‘staged’ in any proscenium. It is to be performed amidst the audience in an open space or a large room while the actors and audience interact with each other. He further clarifies that the performance space should be made up with haphazardly strewn benches to resemble a maze. The performers will walk around this maze like a road, and the audience will stand on either side of this road as if to watch a procession. The performance space is predominantly occupied by a six person chorus. Sircar specifies in a brief stage direction that the sixth actor should be a woman. In multiple but very brief stage directions, Sircar outlines the lights and quite a few of the actions. Since the play depends a lot on body performance, the actions of the actors—kneeling down, getting lost, marching, holding each other while hanging from a bustling bus, carrying the boy’s corpse in a funereal procession etc.—are effectively pointed out in the one lined stage direction.


There are no mentions of any costume for the chorus, but the later characters like the Kotal (Constable), specific costumes are mentioned. The stage direction describes the Constable to be dressed in modern day police uniform armed with baton. The Old Man is described as a ruffled up person wearing a fool’s cap. The Boy or Khoka and the Master or Karta do not wear any particular costume, but from their dialogues and performance we gather that the Boy is supposed to wear regular youthful clothes of the 1970s, while the Chief wears the conventional attire of a bourgeoisie politician.




A play like Micchil cannot have a linear plot line. It is centered on a few themes and the entailing actions are choreographed to communicate these themes across to the audience as succinctly as possible. Hence the action is realistic and as the play proceeds the audience is drawn into a portrayal of their everyday life and the violence that they witness and often choose to ignore. In the backdrop of the early 70s, the play brings into life the Naxalite revolution and the state sponsored violent oppression to curb it. It was the time when the ruling Congress Government of Bengal authorized extreme measures to curtail militant socialism, including mass false encounters, torture in prison, absconding the corpses, curtailing the freedom of speech etc.


Amidst this chaos and fear, Micchil opens with the six chorus characters walking in with the audience searching around them looking for a place to sit, and panicking as the lights go out. As they bicker and fight in the dark, we can hear a scream of pain. The chorus decides that somebody has been murdered and searches around looking for a corpse and calling for the police. The Constable appears and scares them into silence. The Boy gets up from the audience and falls as if dead. As the chorus points at the dead Boy, the Constable attempts to convince everybody that nobody has been killed. The Boy speaks out helplessly trying to make himself be heard by the Constable and the audience who studiously ignore him. The Boy screams that he has been murdered and is murdered everyday and nobody ever notices his disappearance. As his screams fade into silence, the chorus picks his stiff corpse up and carries him out in a funeral procession singing mock-serious chants.


While the funeral procession walks away, the Old Man (often played by Sircar himself) enters wearing a fool’s cap, loudly announcing that the ‘Micchil’ or the Procession has started. Sircar adds a small stage direction at this point mentioning that while the Old Man dances around initiating the procession and calling in the audience to join, audience members who have come later may enter the space and take their places, thereby inadvertently contributing to the performance. The chorus enters marching with slogans for the ‘Michil’. The Old Man joins them in the back and the first chorus member takes away his cap as they walk out of the space leaving the Old Man behind. The Old Man remembers a probably fictitious childhood memory, where he had accompanied his father for a walk down a scenic rustic lane and had just walked ahead looking for newer and still newer turns despite his father’s entreaty to return. While his voice fades away remembering, the chorus enters screaming for the Boy repeating the words the Old Man’s father had used asking him to return.


The chorus spreads amongst the audience asking after the Boy describing him as a young, unintelligent, misguided, slender and possibly retarded individual. The six members of the chorus take turns announcing for his return. They address the masses through television, radio, satellite, Border Security, Interpol and many other impossible media asking for his return. They entreat the Boy to return to his family promising him wealth and success. As they walk away with their pleas of return, the Old Man walks in announcing that the Boy is not one but all those who refuse to grow up the way society wants them to. To us they are the immature and misguided thorns to the comfort of a feudal society. As the chorus screams for the Boy’s return home, the Old Man answers that the Boy will never return unless the ‘home’ they are talking about turns to another, more accommodating and egalitarian one. The Old Man talks about the procession which will show them the way to such a home, and the Boy’s death screams are heard once more.


The chorus enters with news papers and fools’ caps announcing all the international news which the masses are more interested in, rather than the crisis at home. The international news, however, narrows down to inflation, corruption, loss of food grains and the downfall of state machinery; and the chorus walks around with tired gestures announcing them. Each member of the chorus, represent the Prime Minister, Chief Minister, Food Minister, Municipal Councilor, Religious head and Kabiguru (Rabindranath Tagore) as they mouth inane platitudes to comfort the masses. Then the chorus acts like the hawkers, beggars, salesmen in the train as they go around a silent audience. After that, the members hold each other as they pretend to be in an overcrowded bus. They exchange insensitive but funny remarks forgetting the oppression around them. The chorus repeatedly acts out various episodes in our everyday life, portraying the insensitivity and near-sightedness of the common man as everybody continues with their mundane life. Amidst this inanity, the Old Man and the Boy scream around about the procession which will take them to their real home away from being decimated every day. As the chorus, the Old Man and the Boy walk away, the Constable walks in trying to scare them all into convincing that everything is as it should be, nobody is lost or dead, and the procession as it is should continue.


The chorus continues with religious and political procession as the Master tramples them and feeds religious fanaticism into them. The members of the chorus mouth the slogans of the colonial age — “God save the Queen”, “Do or Die”, “Quit India” and “Death to the British Dogs” as they portray communal violence and a myopic vision of independence. The Master keeps on talking about the great Indian heritage and the wonderful future of the country as the chorus slogans about black marketeering and inflation. A cacophony of political slogans and screams for food, The Boy enters screaming for silence. The chorus surrounds him and bludgeons him to death, as the Constable announces that everything is as it should be. The Master’s teachings gradually changes into fascist and capitalist doctrines as he vilifies socialism as the universal evil. The chorus spreads out moaning for factory lockouts, unemployment, black marketeering, state authorized police oppression, familial discord etc., the Master hands them liquor to forget their sufferings. The Old Man walks in pointing out that this liquor is the way to lose ourselves in this systematic oppression. He continues telling how we all have lost out ways and there are no pole stars or compasses to show the way out of this quagmire. As he speaks, the chorus murders the Boy in the darkness. While the Old Man tries to trace his screams, the Constable orders everybody to go home, as nothing is wrong. The Old Man muses the way home, as the Boy enters and drops dead.


The Old Man and the Boy, hand in hand, search for a way home as the former tries to convince the latter that despite his being dead, the search for the ‘home’ is all important. As they walk around the maze like space, the Boy manages to find a way out. But, as they try to walk through, the Boy falls dead saying that this was the place where he was killed. As the Old Man tries to convince him drag himself up and walk through, the chorus walks away from them unconcerned. The Constable tries to misdirect him home. The Old Man runs away when the Constable pursues him for believing that boys are dying every day in their search for a way out. As he escapes, the chorus talks about regressive doctrines and dismisses any revolutionary ideas. As they talk about religion, money, caste and comfortable living as the motto of the day, the Boy tries to announce that they are being misguided into believing that this world of selfish greed is the comfortable ‘home’ of their dreams. He tries to draw their attention at how in the pursuit of finding the ‘home’, boys like him are dying every day. As he speaks, the Constable holds him down and smothers him into silence, as the Master enters instructing the Constable to keep the masses in an eternal amnesia steeped in Art, culture, religion and order, as they forget to question and protest. As the chorus creates a cacophony of animal noises, the Old Man enters asking for the real procession showing them a way out. Suddenly the cacophony of the chorus stops, and clear slogans of socialist demands surface, as they demand for fair wages, better working conditions and the right to protest and question the authority. As they stand together cheering against imperialism and capitalist oppression, the Old Man becomes hopeful. But the slogans gradually change into gibberish as the chorus demands for disparate things. The Boy mourns that while the chorus demands unimportant things, thousands of boys like him die of starvation, or accident or warfare, and nobody shows any concern. As he speaks, the chorus takes him about and kills him repeatedly by beheading, stabbing, hanging, in the gas chamber or bombing.

The Old Man takes the Boy’s hand and explains that he is not dead but only lost and that they should finally look for the way home together. As the Boy prepares to die for his belief, the Old Man announces his determination to support him through his endeavor. As the Old Man and the Boy walk around looking for a way out, they declare that they were and are the same, s the former used to be the Boy and that the Boy will age and become the Old Man. Looking and floundering, they hear a strain of music. The Old Man is hopeful, but the Boy declares that no procession ever shows the correct way to their true home. As they listen, the Old Man declares that this procession might take them home as they are not of greedy individuals but of a unity of people.



The term Naxal is derived from the name of the village Naxalbari in West Bengal, where allegedly the movement had its origin. Though extreme Left-wing revolutionary politics has existed before that, the origin of the movement can be traced to the “Naxalbari” incident on 25th May, 1967 at Bengai Jote village in Naxalbari when the police opened fire on a group of villagers who were demanding their right to the crops at a particular piece.



6.1. Naxalism and State Sponsored Annihilation


The play portrays the mass state sponsored annihilation to curb the ongoing Naxalite movement of the 70s, focusing on Bengal. Right from the initiation of Naxalite movement in 1967 the Indian government had considered it a law and order issue. The causes of the movement and the extent of mobilization of people were not addressed and it was believed that systemic use of arrest, torture and execution would put an end to it. The government launched a massive police operation that drove the movement underground and brought most of its leaders under police custody within four months of the uprising. The West Bengal Government enacted the West Bengal (Prevention of Violent Activities) Act 1970 to arm itself to repress the uprising. This resulted in mass arrests and violent torture sessions in prison and disappearances. The repeated death screams of the Boy and his insistence that he is dying everywhere every day as he looks for a way ‘home,’ reaffirms the truth of the time. The Constable’s holding him silent as he orders people around and insists that everything is alright under the Master’s order represents the deployment of police to stamp out the uprising.


6.2. Lack of Political Awareness


The chorus represents the preoccupation of the bourgeoisie class as they choose to ignore the Boy’s cries for help and immerses into a quagmire of greed and tolerance for oppression. They studiously side step any issue which might question their political amnesia and dismisses the Boy as a misguided and retarded individual not worth their notice.


6.3. Religious and Cultural Regression


As the Master in the play preaches regressive ideas of patriotism, religious fervor and preservation of culture; the chorus mouths these platitudes disapproving of inter-caste marriages, praising godmen and talking about their ultimate goal of having a self-seeking luxurious life with no civic responsibilities. The Master outlines this idea as he orders the Constable to silence the Boy and to make people lose their way giving them the art, culture and religion which will never question the system.


6.4. Antipathy towards the Congress government and Floundering of CPI


Sircar’s antipathy towards the Congress government of the 70s is clear in the play. The Congress government not only sanctioned the police brutality against Naxals, but also systematically kept the common man in the dark about the heinous acts. The Constable and the Master represent the police and the politicians in the play. The Constable kills, silences, scares and scares the people into thinking that nothing is wrong. The Master preaches false sermons and tramples the free will of the common man as he walks over them while they repeat what he is saying and makes dehumanizing animal noises. Even the brief procession with socialist slogans flounders as the legitimate demands gradually turns into gibberish and disparate. Sircar’s parting ways with the CPI as it fails to address the issue of Naxalism suitable may be portrayed in this brief episode.

you can view video on Badal Sircar: Micchil (Theatre of the Oppressed: Augusto Boal)


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