Like the novel and the short story modern drama was the product of Oriya authors exposure to English literature. The first Oriya play was Babaji (1877) by Jaganmohan Lala (1838-1913). Like Radhanath Roy, Lala was educated in the Western system and worked under the British Government. He started a theatre of his own, Radhakanta Rangamancha, named after his family deity, and staged his plays, Sati (1886) and Priti. Lala had social reform as his major theme, Though the first play in Oriya, Babaji is a successful play in the realistic mode.
Orissa had, and still have, a rich tradition of folk performances. Jatra (opera) and suanga (farce), Ramlila Bharatlila, Dandanata and Prahlada Nataka are some such forms. There was also a tradition of Sanskrit drama in Orissa.Murari Mishra, Vishwanath Kabiraj and King Kapilendra Deva wrote and staged plays in Sanskrit. Ray Ramananda, the Minister of Pratap Rudra Deva, built a stage in the Jagannath Ballav Math at Puri. It is even said that King Kharabelas Hathi Gumpha was used in the second century A D as a stage for dramatic performances. Most of the Sanskrit and folk performances were based on religious myths and were often a part of festivals or religious rituals,
Ramashankar Roy (1858-1917), a contemporary of Lala, was a prolific dramatist who wrote historical, social and religious plays. The other important playwrights before independence were Bhikari Charan Patnaik (1878-1962) and Godavarish Mishra. Past glory of Orissa and social reform were the themes of most of the plays written before independence. The most popular playwright soon before and after independence was Vaishnab Pani (l882-l956). He wrote operas with themes borrowed from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. But he had also new themes like the Freedom Movement and economic exploitation and introduced prose dialogues and ordinary men and women as characters. He seems to have written as many as two hundred operas. Pani truly continued the age-old opera tradition but made it contemporary and relevant. Pani staged his operas in different parts of the state. His popularity clearly proves the Oriya audience’s love for the traditional form.
Ashwini Kumar Ghose (1892-1962), Kali Charan Patnaik, Gopal Chhotray and Bhanja Kishore Patnaik were prominent before and after independence. They had history, mythology and social problems as their themes and introduced various innovative techniques on the stage.Cuttack continued to be the center of dramatic activities and there were more than one professional theatre which staged plays every day of the year. Ghoses Konarka, a historical play, and Patnaiks Bhata (Rice), a social play, were great success, These playwright tried to be serious as well as entertaining and they laid the foundation of the post independence dramatic tradition.
Playwright, who have dominated the dramatic scene in the last three decades are Manoranjan Dash Pranabandhu Kar, Kartik Chandra Rath, Bijaya Mishra Bishwajit Das, Harihar Mishra and Ramesh Chandra Panigrahi. Compared to their predecessors, this group has explored a greater variety of themes and techniques and have been more influenced by the western dramatic tradition. In their attempt to be modem they have sometimes alienated themselves from the masses, The growth of the electronic media and the death of the professional theatre have marginalised modern drama and some of the successful dramatists have turned to the traditional opera form which is still popular among the masses.
Contributed By: Dr.Ganeswar Mishra