Veteran theatre personality Usha Ganguly has passed away at the age of 75. She died at her residence in South Kolkata on April 23 after suffering a cardiac arrest. Many artists from the theatre and film fraternity expressed shock over her death. Usha Ganguly was a theatre director, actor and activist. She will be remembered for giving Kolkata a taste of Hindi theatre, which captured the attention of both Bengali and non-Bengali speaking audiences.

Life before theatre

Usha Ganguly was born in Jodhpur, Rajasthan in a family originally hailing from Uttar Pradesh. From her very childhood, she showed a keen interest in art, learning Bharatnatyam. She later moved to Kolkata and did her master’s degree in Hindi Literature from Shri Shikshayaten College.

Usha was awarded the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award for Direction in 1998 and also honoured by the West Bengal government for her acting in the play Gudia Ghar.

Foray into theatre

Usha began her career as a teacher in 1970 and in the same year, she started acting with Sangit Kala Mandir in Kolkata. Her first play was Mitti Ki Gadi, in which she played the role of Vasantsena. She continued teaching as a Hindi Lecturer at Bhowanipur Education Society College, till her retirement in 2008 and did theatre alongside. Before foraying into direction, she trained under the likes of Tripti Mitra and Mrinal Sen.

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Her achievements

Usha founded the Rangakarmee group in 1976, which is known for productions such as Mahabhoj, Rudali, Court Martial and Antaryatra. With Rangkarmee Usha put the focus on Hindi theatre in Kolkata, which had so far been s with the Bengali and English theatre. Her Bengali productions include Mukti and Manasi and she also worked with filmmaker Rituparno Ghosh on the script of the Raincoat, which had Ajay Devgn and Aishwarya Rai in lead roles.

In 2005, Rangkarmee was the only Indian theatre group to perform at the Theatre der Welt Festival in Stuttgart, Germany and staged the play Rudali at Lahore in 2006. The education wing of this group regularly goes on tours across India and undertakes education extension activities in theatre with underprivileged people.

Awards and recognition

Ganguly is credited to have introduced Hindi theatre in Kolkata. She was awarded the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award for Direction in 1998 and also honoured by the West Bengal government for her acting in the play Gudia Ghar.

Usha founded the Rangakarmee group in 1976, which is known for productions such as Mahabhoj, Rudali, Court Martial and Antaryatra.

Major Works

Usha started directing plays in the year 1980. Her important productions include Mahabhoj, Ratnakar Matkari’s Lok katha, Rudali and Himmat Mai. Ganguly, who is credited for introducing a new form of alternative Hindi theatre in Bengal, used to say, “Theatre is my only life and passion and Rangkarmee is my family.”

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West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee offered her condolences after learning of Usha’s death. Recalling Ganguly’s contribution to theatre, she said the state government had conferred her with the Girish Samman honour in 2016.

Actor Shaban Azmi wrote in a tweet, “Deeply saddened to learn that the theatre doyen #Usha Ganguli passed away in her sleep this morning. I had worked with her in PAAR and seen many of her productions in which she was unparalled. My deepest condolences to the family RIP.”

Her last rites were performed in the presence of her family and members of Rangakarmee at the Keoratala crematorium.

Divya Rawat is an intern with SheThePeople.TV

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