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Tiner Talowar – The Tin Sword” is a complex play in Bengali that delves into the psyche of colonial Calcutta of the late nineteenth century. It is set in the world of professional theatre that flourished during that period in Calcutta. The play was written by the renowned thespian and playwright Utpal Dutt.

Benimadhav is an acclaimed actor cum director of The Great Bengal Opera. The first scene opens in a street with Benimadhav returning home drunk, as was his daily habit. He meets a street sweeper who, during the course of their conversation, strikes the thematic note Tiner Talowar is based upon, that, plays at the theatre are far removed from the social goings on and are performed by actors wielding ineffectual tin swords. Benimadhav comes face to face with Moyna, a street potato seller who so entrances him with her high notes that he invites her for an audition.

The second scene brings forth a wave of characters associated with the world of drama. Most performers are penniless and in debt. They are informally educated in the ways of the world. The women are held in ill-repute. The theatre is constantly besieged by debt collectors and people who wish to shut it down since it opposes the existing social norms. Benimadhav is asleep but, the other members of the Great Bengal Opera sit around rehearsing a meaningless play about royal romance and intrigue set in the Kashmir that has no contemporary social relevance.

Priyanath, an idealist and a budding dramatist and also a follower of the Young Bengal Movement is waiting for a chance to urge Benimadhav to drop socially irrelevant themes. Moyna steps in for her audition and after Benimadhav wakes up, she is inducted into the team much to the displeasure of several members. Priyanath gets a chance to make his case but is driven to wits end to discover that the script he had given Benimadhav to read had been used to wrap food and was thrown into a refuse dump. However, his dress and use of bombastic English is successful in driving away local ruffians. He promises to pen a play of rebellion against the British, a subject as much a taboo to the authorities as social reformation was to the entrenched moneyed class.

The owner of The Great Bengal Opera is Birkrishna, a successful businessman but, cultural ignoramus, who constantly dictates which plays the theater should perform. He is the epitome of the Babu Culture that was prevalent among the affluent of those days. He comes to visit his ‘servants’ and to flaunt his riches before impoverished eyes. Since the reigning heroine had been spirited away by a competitor, Benimadhav introduces the dressed up Moyna as Shankari Devi, an educated woman of unsullied reputation. Birkrishna is mollified and departs. Moyna’s initiation into proper diction on her way to be an actress begins in earnest.

The third scene opens at the fair grounds. Forced by circumstances, The Great Bengal Opera produces a drama of little social significance. Moyna becomes a darling of the masses. Priyanath falls in love with her and the two meet at the fair grounds. The city is full of refugees from the countryside fleeing repeated famines caused by colonial oppression. Moyna is untouched and is happy at having escaped from the same fate. Priyanath, on the other hand is appalled and depressed. To make matters worse, British troops come down heavily on a riot that breaks out when hungry hordes storm a grain depot.

The fourth scene shows Priyanath trying to convince Benimadhav to produce one of his plays about a successful tribal uprising against the British led by the fiery Titumeer. Birkrishna has other ideas. He too has been enamored by Moyna’s charms and comes up with an indecent proposal. Benimadhav is forced to give in to the Birkrishna’s threats of closing down the theatre and lets Moyna go to a life of decadent comfort as Birkrishna’s concubine much to the chagrin of Priyanath and Basundhara, a senior actress with the group.

The fifth scene shows The Great Bengal Opera in rehearsal. Priyanath has quit his association with The Great Bengal Opera in disgust and has also left his well-to do family to take up a menial job at the stables. But the seeds of idealism sown by him have not been in vain. The play being rehearsed is his. Birkrishna, with Moyna in tow comes to attend and is the harbinger of the dreadful news that the colonial government have clamped down on the other theatrical groups for treason and revolutionary activity. Benimadhav, weighed down by all the responsibilities on him decides to abandon Priyanath’s revolutionary play and returns to a safer topic. Moyna walks out in disgust. The rehearsals stop for the day but Priyanath’s spirit continues to instigate both Benimadhav and Basundhara.

The sixth and final scene opens on the theatre stage. The Great Bengal Opera is staging a harmless farce on drunken anglicized youth that the audience seem to be lap up. Suddenly there is a transformation and the whole stage spontaneously reverts to Priyanath’s revolutionary play, Titumeer, and this leads to an unprecedented climax of protest against the foreign rule. There is pandemonium as the British authorities try to gain control but the stage is overwhelmed by nationalistic and revolutionary fervor.

The characters in this play bear close resemblance to historical figures of The Bengal Theatre Movement of the nineteenth century. Benimadhav is the shadow of Girish Ghosh. Moyna is none other than Noti Binodini. Priyanath’s character shows the strong influences of Henry Derozio. Tiner Talowar is a drama of epic proportions, filled with colors and flavors of a bygone era that shaped the Bengali cultural consciousness.

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