20 Utpal Dutt: Kallol

Dr. Dibyakusum Ray

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This chapter is about the celebrated Indian actor and dramatist Utpal Dutt, and more particularly about one of his plays Kallol. You would be looking at a brief account of Dutt’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 1965, his longest running play Kallol, invoked political and authorial censure. Dutt believed that it was “blasphemous to engage in comfortable talk about the aesthetics of cinema in a country where the majority starves.” Kallol served as a reminder of the systematic oppression of the British rule and the political double standard practiced in civil and military governance. It had the backdrop of the Royal Indian Navy Mutiny of 1946, and was performed with an anti-government tone, for which Dutt was detained for several months. His incarceration was allegedly approved by the government because the ruling Congress Party feared that his play Kallol was provoking antigovernment protests in West Bengal. He was released on bail, since he was then busy shooting for the title role in Shashi Kapoor’s The Guru. In 2005, forty years after the staging of Kallol, the play was revived as Gangabokshe Kallol, forming part of the state-funded ‘Utpal Dutt Natyotsav’ (Utpal Dutt Theatre Festival) on an off-shore stage, by the Hooghly River in Kolkata.



The Royal Indian Navy Revolt, also called the Royal Indian Navy Mutiny or Bombay Mutiny, was a total strike and subsequent revolt by Indian sailors of the Royal Indian Navy on board ship and shore establishments at Mumbai harbor on 18 February 1946. From the initial flashpoint in Bombay, the revolt spread and found support throughout British India, from Karachi to Calcutta and ultimately came to involve 78 ships, 20 shore establishments and 20,000 sailors. It was repressed with force by the British Royal Navy. Total casualties were 7 dead and 33 wounded. Of all the then predominant political parties, only the Communist Party supported the strikers; while the Congress and the Muslim League condemned it as it did not match their political agenda, jeopardizing the possible success of the revolt. It is now considered a revolt against the British rule in India.


The revolt was called off following a meeting between the President of the Naval Central Strike Committee (NCSC), M. S. Khan, and Vallab Bhai Patel of the Congress, who had been sent to Bombay to settle the crisis. Patel issued a statement calling on the strikers to end their action, which was later echoed by a statement issued in Calcutta by Mohammed Ali Jinnah on behalf of the Muslim League. Under these considerable pressures, the strikers gave way. However, despite assurances of the good services of the Congress and the Muslim League widespread arrests were made. These were followed up by courts martial and large scale dismissals from the service. None of those dismissed were reinstated into either the Indian or Pakistani navies after independence.The only prominent leader from nationalist ranks who supported them was Aruna Asaf Ali.



Dutt was born on March 29, 1929 in Barishal (now a district in Bangladesh) and educated at St Xaviers College, Calcutta. He founded his group, “The Shakespeareans” in 1947. Its first performance was a production of Richard III, with Dutt playing Richard. Geoffrey and Laura Kendall of the travelling Shakespearean Theatre Company hired him for tours across India and Pakistan, enacting Shakespeare, first 1947-49 and later 1953-54. After the Kendalls’ departure in 1949, Dutt called his group “Little Theatre Group.” Over the next three years, he performed, produced and directed plays by Ibsen, Shaw, Tagore, Gorky and Konstantin Simonov. The group later decided to switch over to Bengali plays completely that evolved into a production company that produced a few Bengali films. He was also an active member of IPTA (refer to Module 18 for details) and the Gananatya Sangha which performed in the villages of West Bengal. Through the 1970s, three of his now famous plays, Barricade, Dusswapner Nagari (City of Nightmares) and Ebaar Rajar Pala (Now the King’s Turn), drew crowds despite being officially banned.


He had taken the Minerva Theatre theatre on lease in 1959. His association with the issues of the masses began with Angar (Burning Coal) a play that was based on exploitation of the coal miners in 1959. He wrote Louha Manab (The Iron Man), 1964 while still in jail, based on a real trial against a pro-Stalin, ex-Politburo member by supporters of Nikita Khrushchev in Moscow of 1963. Initially staged at Alipore Jail in 1965, by People’s Little Theatre. His stay in jail unleashed a new period of rebellious, and politically charged plays, including Tiner Toloar (The Tin Sword), partially based on Pygmalion, Dushapner Nagari (Nightmare City), Manusher Odhikare (Rights Of Man), based on the Scottsboro Boys case, protests against the racial discrimination and injustice of the Scottsborough trial of 1931, Surya-Shikar (Hunting the Sun) in 1978, Maha-Bidroha (The Great Rebellion) in 1989, and Laal Durgo (Red Fort) in 1990 about the demise of Communism, set in a fictitious East European country, and Janatar Aphim (Opiate of the People), 1990, lamented the Indian political parties’ exploitation of religion for gain.


His career in films spans an oeuvre of more than 100 films covering forty years.Among some of his memorable films from both mainstream and off-mainstream cinema are – Bhuvan Shome, Ek Adhuri Kahani and Chorus directed by Mrinal Sen; Agantuk, Jana Aranya, Jai Baba Felunath and Hirak Rajar Deshe directed by Satyajit Ray; Paar and Padma Nadir Maajhi directed by Gautam Ghose; Bombay Talkie and Shakespeare Wallah directed by James Ivory; Jukti Takko Aar Gappo directed by Ritwik Ghatak; Guddi and Golmaal directed by Hrishikesh Mukherjee; and Swami directed by Basu Chatterjee. His performance in Agantuk brought him the Best Actor Award from the Bengal Film Journalists Association in 1992. He died in August 19, 1993.


  • Dutt formed the Brecht Society in 1948 with Satyajit Ray as president. As an author, Dutt wrote 22 full-length plays, 15 poster plays and 19 jatra scripts. He directed more than 60 theatrical productions and acted in thousands of shows across the state of West Bengal besides writing in-depth essays on Shakespeare, Girish Chandra Ghosh, Stanislavsky, Brecht and revolutionary theatre besides translating Shakespeare and Brecht.
  • His two collections of essays, written from the fifties to the nineties, namely, On Theatre and On Cinema maps the aesthetic, political and revolutionary seas of his time in search of productions that reach out beyond the proscenium to the street and the jatra stage to touch people’s hearts.
  • His Little Theatre became the platform that staged the struggle of oppressed groups against the repressive forces. Evolving at the intersection of European and Indian culture, it was a key force that demolished many a myth associated with colonialism.
  • A performance in and as Othello, impressed noted filmmaker Modhu Bose so deeply that he picked Dutt to play the lead in his biopic Michael Madhusudhan (1950), about a famous poet in Bengal who had converted to Christianity but came back from Britain to get back to his roots.
  • Dutt also directed some films during his career. These were – Megh (1961), a psychological thriller, Ghoom Bhangar Gaan (1965), Jhor (1979), Baisakhi Megh (1981), Maa (1983) and Inquilab ke Baad (1984). None of these films met with any kind of commercial success.



Considering the scope of the play, Kallol has limited stage direction. There are only a few detailed ones to explain the stage setting of the warship Khaibar (the original warship which spearheaded the RIN revolution was called HMIS Akbar) and the position and names of the stokers and ratings in their jobs. The context is explained by a story-teller who is directed to be dressed in a faded Royal Indian Navy uniform and armed with a mouth organ or a banjo, denoting a face amongst the rebellious seamen. He sings the condition of the indigenous sailors who are forced to work under humiliating and discriminatory working conditions and mortal risks. He also announces in a long song/ narration of the seething discontent. The storyteller makes recurrent appearances in every scene as he explains the context of the socio-historical changes and implications. In the last scene, he appears in civilian clothes announcing how they have been dishonorably discharged from service and barred from honest jobs even after independence.


The settings are minimal and it is hinted that the actors can do without the setting and only mime the background with a few or no props. The many backdrops include the casement deck and the boiler room of Khaibar, the seamen colony in Mumbai, Admiral Rattray’s office and the inside of the prison. The costumes include uniforms for the sailors, national dresses for Saksena and Sardar Maganlal and regular albeit faded clothes for the colony residents.


4. Major Characters in Kallol


The characters in the play are categorized according to the backdrop they would normally act against, though they also travel between them.


The Storyteller— Dressed in a faded RIN uniform the storyteller appear recurrently throughout the play explaining the context and the changing scenario beyond the stage.


In HIMS Khaibar:


Gunner Shardool Singh—the principal protagonist of the play, Shardool might have been based on the real life M.S. Khan and Madan Singh of the 1946 revolution. He is depicted as a gifted and fearless sailor who mans the cannons of the warship. He is initially shown as a naïve and lovesick sailor, fearless and fiercely faithful to his wife Lakshmibai. But after his return from a French POW camp, he finds his wife living with a disabled sailor Subhash out of necessity. He leaves house. He later becomes the passionate revolutionary who refuses to give the revolution up for the sake of a few paltry benefits. He takes Khaibar to the point of no return and martyrs for the cause. He arranges for armaments and ammunitions for the revolution and manages to see the wider political implications of their demands. He equates the colonial oppression with the class oppression and declares their war with not only the imperial government but also the oppressive upper class.


Able Seamen Rajguru, Gafur, Pinto, Shadasivam, Masoom, Nayek, Asaad, Agnihotri, Signaller Chakrabarty— the crew of Khaibar, standing with the revolution with cynical perspectives on Naval governance and total commitment towards the revolution. Each of them has an idiosyncrasy of their own. For instance, Gafur is obsessed with female body and continuously narrating bawdy stories.


Able Seaman Satwalekar— A former schoolteacher, Satwalekar joined RIN after being disappointed with the education system. He narrates a horrific account, where a student substantiates his definition of bisecting a line as the process of tearing a live human by pulling apart his two legs with two cars. He explains the mathematical principles about cannon fire and warfare ammunition.


Able Seaman Rafikul— a seasoned sailor, Rafikul dies in the combat with an Italian ship in the first scene. In spite of declaring his invincibility, he dies while dispassionately asking his mates to send his belongings to his family. He represents the risks entailing the life of a rating without anybody mourning his passing.


Able Seaman Brijlal—always under the influence of foreign liquor given by the British officers in exchange for his cooperation, Brijlal is condemned by all for his servile attitude to the British command. But, he stands with the revolutionary sailors as he hits the officers who he has been forced to serve avenging his humiliation.


Petty Officer Mukherjee– a totally servile Indian officer, who unquestioningly supports his commanding officers while meekly accepting their humiliating racist comments and unfair discrimination.


Captain Armstrong—the captain of HMIS Khaibar, Armstrong is cunning and oppressive. He does not attend to his regular duties and let the sailors do everything to run the ship. He rants and raves as he is forced to leave the ship and advises Admiral Rattray to pretend to accept the revolutionary demands and later to renege and court martial the revolutionaries.


Lieutenant Denham—the quintessentially oppressive, ethnocentric, sadistic British officer, Denham tries to avenge his removal from Khaibar, by shooting at and torturing the people in the sailor’s colony.

Waterfront Sailor’s Colony:


Lakshmibai—She is Shardool Singh’s wife. After Shardool’s disappearance, Krishna is forced to fend for herself and live with a disabled sailor Subhash who saves her from three American soldiers and certain prostitution. She is unable to choose between Shardool, whom she loves and Subhash, whom she is grateful of. She fearlessly assists her mother-in-law Lakshmi in defending the colony, but eventually informs the British of the hidden weapons in order to save imprisoned Shardool.


Krishnabai— Shardool’s irrepressible mother. The matriarch of the colony, Lakshmibai defends the people and shows fierce passion for the cause. She sides with Krishnabai, when she is censured by Shardool and everybody for cohabiting with Subhash. She withstands torture and imprisonment, but refuses to abandon the cause. This character has often been compared with Brecht’s Mother Courage and Gorky’s Mother.


Subhash Desai— One handed, Subhash has been discharged from active naval service and lives in with Krishna. He risks his life to aid the starving ratings in Khaibar. He respects Krishnabai and Shardool and supports Krishna through difficulties.


Nuruddin—Seaman Asad’s retired father. Nuruddin takes up the defense of the colony when the government troops attack them. He organizes the defense and leads the guerilla attacks to save his people. He is imprisoned and tortured along with Lakshmibai, but perseveres.


Nazim Ali and Motibibi— two of the first casualties in the colony. Nazim Ali is Seaman Masoom’s father, while Motibi is Gafur’s mother. They are cruelly shot down by the attacking troops.


Shastriji—the moral guardian of the colony, Shastriji shows extreme intolerance as he condemns Krishnabai’s association with Subhash and the colony’s aiding the revolution. But, it is later disclosed that it was he who had hidden the weapons in his temple to save them from the approaching troops and had lied to the government force under torture.


In the Headquarters:


Rear Admiral Rattray—mostly played by Dutt himself, Rattray is shown as an aging and oppressive Naval officer. He is intolerant and impulsive and orders for severe retribution for the revolutionaries. But he refuses to actively participate in the reneging conspiracy of Captain Armstrong and Sardar Maganlal to deceive the sailors.


Saksena—The leader of the revolutionaries, Saksena attempts to negotiate with the officers. He is more flexible than Shardool and the other crew members of Khaibar. A retired gunner, Saksena empathizes with the sailors but wishes to keep peace with the bourgeois political parties as well. He negotiates the terms of surrender for the revolutionaries, and is shocked as they are sabotaged. He chooses to say nothing to save his public image. This character is allegedly based on the real life president of the striking sailors M.S. Khan.


Sardar Maganlal—the representative of the predominant political party (Congress), Maganlal tries to thwart the revolutionaries to preserve their political agenda. He conspires with the British government and sabotages the revolutionaries.


Captain Rebelo—a captain in the 11th Sikh Regiment, Captain Rebelo is sent to thwart the movement in the waterfront colony. He dissuades the brutal methods of Captain Denham, and attempts to be more humane in his approach. He manages to coax the information from Krishnabai about the hidden ammunition promising life for Shardool. He is shocked when he finds that Shardool has been killed in prison.


5. Plot Overview of Kallol


The play has a widespread scope and comprises three predominant spaces—the deck and the hold of the ship Khaibar, the waterfront sailors’ colony and the naval headquarters. It also spans several years jumping from the first scene to the second denoting a passing of five years. The story unfolds over twelve scenes.


Scene i opens with the presence of a storyteller wearing faded RIN uniform holding a mouthorgan or a banjo, singing inexpertly of the nationalist movement and the price we have paid for independence. He reminds the audience of the sacrifice of freedom fighters and how Indians have paid for the independence with their blood, not non-violence. He resolves to narrate the part played by the Mumbai sailors. The scene unfolds in the background of the hold of HMIS Khaibar, where the ratings work ceaselessly in the eve of a conflict with an Italian ship. They discuss and bicker about their cynicism regarding warfare and death, as they prepare to act according to Petty Officer Mukherjee’s instructions. As they engage with the Italian ship, their gunner Shardool Singh comes to the hold to stow some gifts he had bought for his wife. Rafikul dies in the skirmish as Shardool blasts away the Italian ship with the cannons. Shardool’s bravery is indifferently commended by the officers.


In Scene ii, the narrator announces the end of World War II and informs the audience that Khaibar is missing in action, while the relatives of the missing sailors wait for them in the waterfront colony. The scene portrays Khaibar’s return to Mumbai port. As Shardool eagerly returns to his family, he is shocked to see his wife living with another sailor Subhash, who apparently has protected Lakshmi from starvation, rape and forced prostitution during Shardool’s return. His mother supports the bewildered Lakshmi, as Shardool berates her for faithlessness. The residents of the colony mourn the ongoing civil violence in Mumbai. Shardool leaves home to return to Khaibar. The narrator returns to announce that the sailors union decides to go for a strike and mutiny involving all the sailors and ships and instruction reaches the ships as Khaibar sails for Karachi.


In Scene iii, Khaibar’s crew members organize for the mutiny, in solidarity to the decision taken by the sailors’ organization. In the middle of being bullied and humiliated by Captain Armstrong and Lieutenant Denham, the sailors revolt and imprison the commanding officers. As the crew cheers the nationalistic slogans the narrator informs the audience that the revolution had spread throughout India, and Khaibar returns to Mumbai port and president of the sailors’ organization Saksena comes to negotiate.


In Scene iv, Saksena attempts to outline the revolutionary agenda with the Khaibar crew. The sailors are unhappy about the petty demands of the revolution, which the organization downplays as a harmless strike. The scene closes with the message delivered by Sardar Maganlal warning everybody of the so called communist threat, as he declares that the communist political parties is supporting the mutiny and are inciting the sailors to undermine the nationalistic cause.


In Scene v, the government troops fire on innocent civilians and the section lead by Rebelo attempts to arrest several residents of the colony. Sardar Maganlal diffuses the tension between the two parties as they prepare for violence. He requests the residents not to undermine Gandhiji’s path of non-violence. As Nuruddin and Krishnabai spiritedly defend the colony following the killing of innocent bystanders, the local godman Shastriji tries to stop them. As Krishbai realizes that Khaibar has reached the creak beside the waterfront, she gives the hidden hoard of arms to the sailors and laborers and Nuruddin organizes them for the defense. Subhash is shot as he tries to smuggle food to the starving sailors in Khaibar.


In Scene vi, Subhash survives the bullet wound and manages to swim to Khaibar with food. Amidst good natured ribbing, rants and bawdy jokes, the crew members dispassionately receive the news of the colony. Shardool refuses to listen to Subhash as he prepares to pass on Lakshmi’s message. His hostility ebbs a little as he recognizes Subhash’s contribution to their cause.


In Scene vii, Admiral Rattray, Armstrong, Denham and Mukherjee assemble in the navy headquarters. Sardar Maganlal conspires with Armstrong to bring in the mild mannered Saksena to diffuse the tension, as both Khaibar and the colony fire back at the British troops. He argues that this uprising is affecting the capitalist economy and thereby the business. In spite of his brutal tactics, Rattray refuses to actively participate in the deception, though he relents later and gives it a grudging endorsement as Maganlal threatens the displeasure of British merchants. Saksena agrees to bring the command from Khaibar to the headquarters. The narrator announces how an armored car enters the colony and kills a lot of innocent people.


In Scene viii, Rebello enters the colony and tries to find the hidden weapons. Lakshmibai and Krishnabai try to distract him through jeering. Shastriji shows compliance but cannot tell them the whereabouts of the arms. Rebello tries to stop Denham from his brutality, but is forced to allow Nuruddin and Krishnabai’s imprisonment. Rebelllo shows his respect to Lakshmibai as he recognizes her as the wife of the fearlessly patriotic Shardool.


In Scene ix, Saksena brings in the peace terms from the headquarters, which Shardool refuses to accept. The other sailors try to appease Shardool and replace him with Rajguru to negotiate peace to save Krishnabai from torture and death. Shardool understands the implication, but obeys silently as Rajguru takes his place.


In Scene x, the command of Khaibar enter the headquarters under bureaucratic immunity but are tricked and imprisoned as all the terms and conditions are reneged. Saksena is outraged but is framed by Maganlal with complicity with the British, as he discloses his own political agenda on behalf of Congress and Muslim League. The narrator informs of the surrender of the remaining warships. The sailors of Khaibar are tortured and imprisoned by the British navy.


In Scene xi, Rebelo informs Krishna and Lakshmi of Shardool’s predicament and promises to save him if they disclose the whereabouts of the hidden arms trove. To save Shardool’s life, Lakshmi furnishes them with the necessary information, with the surprise news of Shastriji’s hiding them in his house.


In the last scene, Lakshmi enters the prison to meet Shardool accompanied by Rebelo. They are brought to Shardool’s bruised and battered corpse. Rebelo tries to protest his innocence in this final betrayal, as the grief-stricken Lakshmi mourns over Shardool’s body. The soldiers keep counting the thousands of ammunition collected by Shardool for the civil uprising. The narrator enters dressed in civilian clothes as he narrates the aftermath of the revolution. The sailors were killed or prosecuted or dishonorably discharged from service. They were not even employed after independence. He also says that in the moment of oppression, every warship had become Khaibar and every one of them had a fearless rebel like Shardool. He looks out and prays for fearless revolution in the face of tyranny.




Critic Sumanta Banerjee comments that the reaction of the ruling Congress Party was a form of tribute to Dutt’s heroic attempts to create a popular revolutionary theatre (1993, 1848). Kallol was extremely critical of the Congress government of 1965 and Dutt was immediately arrested and imprisoned in the Presidency Jail without trial. Disruptive elements were planted in the Minerva Theatre on several occasions and goons of the Congress Party threatened performers with dire consequences if they did not withdraw from the productions.


Critics have often called the climactic scenes melodramatic and over-emotional, though admitting in the same breath that it is precisely these qualities that make Dutt’s plays resonate with his audience. By emphasizing the need for a popular communist uprising, Dutt demonstrates the possibility of escaping this oppressive regime. Like his heroes, who are ordinary human beings with extraordinary zeal, the common man must become angry enough to force a change in circumstances.


Dutta was spurned by contemporary leftist political groups, which rejected his brand of Trotskyism. He refused to follow the official Communist Party line, feeling that the party was not doing enough to foment popular rebellion. At the same time, he took an active part in creating and staging propaganda plays during elections, which had a significant impact on the ballot box, especially on the 1967 and 1971 general and state elections. Critics like Bharucha and Banerjee, while praising Dutt’s work, have criticized his seemingly simplistic approach to revolutionary politics on the grounds that an actual popular rebellion or revolution against the class enemy is not this easily realized. Despite his inability to incite an actual social revolution, Dutt successfully created a unique brand of politically subversive theater in India.

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