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Yojana Magazine (August 2022): Role Of Theatre & Cinema In India’s Freedom Struggle

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In ‘‘Analysis Of Yojana Magazine,” we cover each and every topic of the Yojana edition of a particular month and provide an easy-to-understand gist.

This topic-wise analysis is prepared from the August 2022 edition of the monthly Yojana Magazine.




  • Indian theatre & cinema played a crucial role in the freedom struggle. Many patriotic dramas and films, in many Indian languages, upheld it.
  • Public theatre during colonial rule became reflective of national character and it was a system of organization and consumption that modelled national behaviour.


Brief History Of Indian Theatre


  • Theatre in India began in Calcutta and Bombay in the second half of the 18th century.
  • Throughout the 1860s, theatres were controlled by elites. They presented a number of plays addressing contemporary issues like widow remarriage, polygamy, class and racial oppression and many more.
  • The very restrictive nature of these theatres led to the emergence of public theatre that grew upon the enthusiasm and determination of the educated, middle-class youth for whom this held huge scope for entertainment and voicing their opinions.
  • It was from the second half of the nineteenth century that the socio-economic conditions of Bengal and the essence of nationalism were reflected in the plays.


Some Pre-Independence Champions in the Theatre


Madhusudan Dutt

  • During the middle of the 19th century, Madhusudan Dutt was involved with the theatre at Belgachia, which was a pioneer of modern, western-influenced theatre.
  • Dutt composed the play, ‘Sharmistha’, in the western style, in 1858, based on the story of Debjani-Yayati of Mahabharata. It is considered the first original play written in the Bengali language.

Dinabanadhu Mitra

Dinabanadhu Mitra’s Nildarpan (The Mirror of Indigo Planting) showed the brutal exploitation of peasants working on indigo plantations by their British employers.

Girish Chandra Ghosh

  • His plays were packed with socio-political significance.
  • He used theatre to translate the spirit of nationalism into powerful outlets of public opinion. His plays like ‘Siraj -ud-Daula’, and ‘Mir Qasim’ were subjected to critical censorship.
  • Ghosh established the National Theatre in 1872 and the first performance of the Bengali commercial stage happened with ‘Nil Darpan’. Soon it was banned by the administration.

Rabindranath Tagore

  • He wrote a number of plays with profuse song-and-dance sequences (often referred to as Rabindra-Nritya, for their unique minimalist and non-classical form).
  • Tagore infused a European form and structure into his plays, building climax and portraying the psychological conflict between the characters.
  • However, they failed to generate interest from general audiences. This changed dramatically once Sombhu Mitra’s group ‘Bohurupi’ began performing Tagore’s stories and plays.

Manmatha Ray

Manmatha Ray used puranic tales to suit contemporary times in the 1930s.


What was Jatra during colonial rule?


  • Jatra is a popular folk-theatre form of Bengali theatre, spread throughout most of Odia and Bengali-speaking areas including Bangladesh and the Indian states of West Bengal, Odisha, Bihar, Tripura and Assam.
  • The word jatra means journey or going. The origin of jatra, intrinsically a musical theatre form, is traditionally credited to the rise of Sri Chaitanya’s Bhakti movement.
  • In ‘Jatra’, the stories about patriotism and sacrifice gained prominence. The popularity of ‘Jatra’ amongst the masses ensured the spread of political awareness.
  • These plays portrayed the British as the new form of evil as compared to the Indian revolutionary symbolizing the good.

Some Pre-Independence champions in the Cinema Industry

Dwarkadas Naraindas Sampat

He was the maker of the first political (silent) film, Bhakt Vidur (1921).

J B.H. Wadia

  • Most politically involved film maker of Hindi cinema, who had become an INC volunteer since 1930 – made such films, centred on democracy, as Diler Daku (1931), Toofan Mail (1932), Lal-e-Yemen and Dilruba Daku (1933), Kala Gulab (1934) and Ekta (1942)
  • He filmed the historic celebrations of India’s freedom as officially organised on the midnight of 14-15 August 1947.

R. Jyotiprasad Aggarwal

  • The pioneer of Assamese films, who was a political activist and freedom fighter, is renowned for his Jyotimati (1934).
  • Debaki Kumar Bose, a revolutionary turned film producer, who played the lead role in his political films ; he made Inquilab (Revolution) in 1935.

V. Shantaram (1901-1993)

He had been in Marathi and Hindi cinema for over 60 years, though never in active politics, made attractive films on socio-economic issues (like Amar Jyoti (1936) and Shejari/Padosi (1941)), and on communal harmony; he was famous for pioneering in India a colour film, Sairandhri (1933).

K. Subramanyam (1904-1971)

  • Tamil film pioneer, whose contribution to liberation had no match in Indian cinema, crusaded against orthodoxy, as in his Balayogini (1936) and Bhakta Cheta (1940), while his Sevadasan (1938), on the status of women, and Tyaga Bhoomi (1939), with an easily indentifiable political flavour, in which the actor Sivan portrayed Sambhu Sastri as Tamil Nadu’s Gandhi, were even more radical.
  • Between 1936 and 1942, K. Subrahmanyam made some of the most socially significant Tamil films. His celebrated film ‘Thyagaboomi’ (1939) was important in several ways. It was banned by the British Government for propagating nationalist sentiment and promoting the Indian National Congress.

Sohrab Modi

Sohrab Modi’s ‘Sikandar’ on Alexander’s invasion of India evoked passionate nationalist sentiments.


Prabhat’s devotional, biographical film on the saint, ‘Eknath’ propagated the Gandhian ideals of abolishing ‘untouchables’.


How did the Freedom Fighters take Theatre & Films?


  • India’s staunch patriots as Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Lala Lajpat Rai, Vallabhai Patel, Jawaharlal Nehru, Sarojini Naidu, S. Satyamurti and Rabindranath Tagore, opining that the cinema was useful for emancipation and political awakening, strongly supported it.
  • Bengali cinema drew its inspiration from rich literature from the likes of Sarat Chandra Chatterjee, Bankim Chandra Chatterjee and Rabindranath Tagore. This is why in popular slang, Bengalis even now refer to a film as ‘boi’/‘book’.
  • Cinemas upholding religious unity alongside the strong wish for freedom from the colonial rule were in the mainstream.
  • At the 1939 Indian National Congress conference at Calcutta, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose advised the members to form a film collective for the spread of cinema.


Colonial Restrictions


  • In 1876, ‘Dramatic Performances Act’ was passed to bar public theatres from using overtly subversive political messages.
  • India’s Cinematography Act was passed in 1918 based on the British Cinematograph Act 1909 to censor the content of films to be exhibited to the public.

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