Gopal Chhotray

Born :- 01-Jan-1916
Died :- 02-Jan-2003
Place of Birth :- Purunagada, Jagatsinghpur

Playwright Gopal Chhotray, well known to all drama connoisseurs within and without Odisha, was born in the village Purunagarh in Jagatsinghpur under the undivided Cuttack district. His father was Haldhar Chhotray and his mother was Indumati. He joined the Salt Satyagraha in 1930 and was imprisoned as a student. He was an active member of the Nav Yug Sahitya Samsad. After leaving school, he wrote his first play, adapting Kahnucharan's novel ‘Nispatti’ (Decision). He wrote a one-act play around 1942-43 which was judged best in a competition, fetching him a prize. It was also published in the famous magazine Mukur edited by Brajasundar Das. When ‘Sahadharmini’ (Better half), another of his one-act plays, was staged in Cuttack, he received a reward of thirty-five rupees from Parala Maharaja Krushnachandra Gajapati.

Gopal Chhotray dominated the Oriya professional theatre for more than three decades. Beginning with Pheria (Come Back) in 1946, he wrote 35 original stage plays and 10 adaptations of eminent Odia novels and stories, most of which were runaway success on professional stage. There were days, when both the professional theatres of Cuttack, holding daily shows, used to stage his plays concurrently.

He is considered to be one of the chief architects of modern Odia theatre. He brought in significant changes in the morphology of Odia plays, both in theme and structure. He rescued them from the hold of opera and melodrama, and the overbearing influence of neighbouring Bengal.

Apart from adapting works of eminent Odia novelists like Upendra Kishore Das (Mala Janha), Basanta Kumari Patnaik (Amadabata), Kanhu Charana Mohanty (Jhanja) and former Chief Minister of Odisha Dr. Harekrushna Mahtab (Pratibha), he also adapted Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay's ‘Ramer Sumati’, Henrik Ibsen's 'Enemy of the People', A. Milne's 'Man in the Bowler Hat', Henry Fielding's 'Mock Doctor', and the English thriller 'The Evil That Men Do'.

Gopal Chhotray was associated with All India Radio (AIR), Cuttack since its inception in 1948. After years of writing as a freelancer, he joined AIR, Cuttack as an in-house script writer in 1956 and worked till 1975.

He wrote more than half a thousand radio plays, including musicals and features, and made listening to his works a household habit. His monthly serial 'Purapuri Paribarika'(Entirely a Family Matter), which ran uninterrupted for three years, was perhaps the earliest chain-play the AIR produced.

While in AIR, Gopal Chhotray made a unique contribution to the Odia musical tradition by reviving rural opera, which had gone out of fashion, and was frowned upon by the city-bred and the puritans. He restored Baisnab Pani, the doyen of Odia musical theatres, to his legitimacy and started an upsurge in musical plays by building up a large repertoire, consisting of his own originals and adaptations.

He has nearly twenty LP records and cassettes including the all-time best 'Srimati Samarjani' based on Fakir Mohan Senapati’s short story ‘Patent Medicine’. It continues to be a listening rage even after 40 years.

He was also pivotal in designing the dramatic contents of the Odisha Doordarshan when TV came to the State. He nurtured its foundation at Cuttack and continued to sustain it after it shifted to Bhubaneswar. He scripted nearly a hundred plays and features for the State TV, including serials and a memorable mythological called ‘Devi Durga’.

He started his career as an amateur stage artist in Bharati Theatres in Cuttack, but soon became the foremost playwright and film script writer for the Odia stage and films respectively. After 'Pheria', his early plays in the 50s, such as ‘Bharasa’ and ‘Para Kalam’, were recognised as unique creations. His instant recognition for film script writing came with the production of ‘Sri Jagannath’ in 1950. In the next thirty-five years, he wrote screenplays and dialogues for a number of cinemas including ‘Amadabata’, ‘Kie Kahara’, ‘Matira Manisha’ and ‘Badhu Nirupama’ which received high critical acclaim for his dialogues and treatment.

When professional theatre withered away in Odisha and the State radio lost out its monopoly to private broadcasting and TV channels, Gopal Chhotray, devoted himself to writing of short stories. He published two volumes of his work—Sei Phula and Chandramukhi—which were actually embryonic of the plays and films he wanted to write but could not.

For his outstanding contribution to the inventory of Odia dramma, Gopal Chhotray has been honoured with the Padma Shri (2002), the Kendra Sahitya Akademi Award (1982), the Odisha Sahitya Akademi Award (1974), the Sharala Award (2000) and the Bishuv Milan Award (1993)


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