North East Theatre Festival At Imphal —Bridging The Gap Through Culture—

Members of ‘Dreamz Unlimited’ representing Nagaland playing “Lichaba's Daughter” at North East Theatre Festival in Imphal, Manipur on February 24. The festival scheduled from February 19 to 28 was held at NT Theatre, Imphal, Manipur. Image Credit: Morung Express.

It is heartening to learn the reported news that NT Theatre will organize RK Sanayaima Memorial North-east Theatre Festival from 19th to 28th February, 2011. What is special about the upcoming event is that the theatre festival is scheduled to be held at the newly constructed NT Theatre Complex at Changangei Ucheckon, Airport Road, Imphal, which is now nearing its completion and is expected to be one of the prestigious theatre complex of not only Manipur, but also of the whole of India.

The theme of the festival which is stated to be ‘Bridging the gap through Culture’ is itself a far-sighted view of the NT Theatre. Ten local or other theatre-groups of Northeast region will participate in the forthcoming theatre festival which is going to be held at a stretch of ten days. The festival is also expected to foster tight relationship among the States of the North East. It is a long story that the diverse ethnic groups, belonging to the same anthropological stock are pulling each other apart. It is almost too late but imperative to bring about an emotional integration among the groups by strengthening the cultural elements through the medium of theatre. Theatre is assumed as the mirror of a society. And in that mirror that society’s attitude, traits, customs and manners are all reflected. It may be remembered that the Northeastern region of India is composed of seven full-fledged States of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram, Meghalaya and Tripura, and poetically called ‘Seven Sisters’. These seven States were taking their lions’ share in the history of India. The region is topographically surrounded by eastern Himalayan range in the north and southern part of China, Myanmar in the east, Bangladesh in the west etc. The Northeastern region is a treasure-trove of different ethnic groups and languages and dialects and a melting pot of diverse cultural patterns in the cultural lives of the hills and plains people of the region and their clan and class structures. One fact remains certain that the people of this region have been living a common integrated life with a sense of belongingness to their land. Therefore, it may not be wrong to say that the region has a ‘un-Indian’ character considering a comparative study with other regions of the mainland.

But as ill-luck would have it, and because of absence of interaction among different ethnic or racial groups inhabiting this great homeland called ‘India’, they are pulling each other apart or alienating from each other. The contemporary scene is almost deplorable or desperate as the region is rampant with insurgency, unemployment, corruption, unjustifiable killings, drug-trafficking and a host of other man-made vices.

It is a known fact that before India became free from the colonial shackles of British Imperialism in 1947, the native States of Manipur, Tripura and other hill tribes of North East Frontier Agency were administered from the Central keyboard. But during the post-independence period, amongst the turmoil and tribulations of political fallouts faced by the people of this region, such a festival organized by NT Theatre is highly appreciable.

In such a face–to–face cultural interaction program the following plays would be witnessed : CHARANDAS—CHOR (Assamese), of Baa, the Creative Breeze, LICHAK of the Dreams Unlimited of Nagaland, DUKON of Achik Theatre of Meghalaya and regarding the plays of Manipur, mention may be made of MYTHICAL-SURRENDER of the host-unit, the NT Theatre, HANGLAI of the Panthoibi Natya Mandir, Yumnam Leikai, MUNISU JAGOI SABISU of Deal Repertory Theatre, Chajing, RAJARSI BHAGYA-CHANDRA of Banian Repertory, ANTIGONE of Theatre Mirror, Haobam Marak, Imphal; EE TEIRABA NUMIT (The Blood-smeared Sun) of Cosmopolitan Dramatic Union, Kongba, Imphal and THE FIRE AND THE RAIN of the Khoriphaba Artistes’ Association, Nambol, etc will participate in the ten-days’ theatre festival.

The thematic impulses that make up the main component of the festival are as eclectic as they are creative.  The work of eminent contemporary Manipuri playwrights like Sangeet Natak Akademi awardee Yumnam Rajendra’s ‘Hanglai’, Budha Chingtham’s, ‘Mythical Surrender’ and MC Arun’s Rajarshi Bhagyachandra’ are presented in striking new productions, alongside the institute called BAA (The Creative Breeze), of Assam was established in the year 1995 at Guwahati, Assam under the guidance and leadership of Anup Hazarika, who have graduated from the National School of Drama in ‘Acting’ in the year 1990.

It is a renowned theatre-institute not only in the Northeast, but also in the sub-continent. The play Charandas Chor which is going to be performed at Imphal is directed by him and the said play was included in the 13th Bharat Ranga Mahotsav India International Festival.  In the previous 12th round of the same festival too, his play Miri Jeeyoree was performed. About 21 plays have been produced by this group since its establishment. With regards to the style and treatment of Anup Hazarika, one can but remember the words of Prafulladatta Goswami, one of the pioneer – folklorist of the land that:

The Assamese-speaking population cannot be characterized as primitive, as, though dwelling in an agricultural setting, they have been swamped by the Aryan civilization and, what is more have been touched to some extent by the industrialism of modern times………

Out of the 21st plays produced by Hazarika’s group, mention may be made of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Oedipus Rex of Sophocles, Le Malentendu of Camus, Moy Juniye Tuntunalo of Nabakanta Baruah, Zarourouwa Paraze of Muninbhuyan and Charandas Chor of Habib Tanvir. Anup Hazarika is one of the experienced senior directors. He directed 31 plays during his career and he is a versatile actor too. At a time when the movement of Jatra was in vogue in Assam, Anup involved in mobile theatre for about 5 years as director and actor.  He has translated Ashadka Ek Din of Mohan Rakesh into Assamese and published it.  His main interest lies in dramatization from short stories and novels. He has acted in more than 14 films of Assamese, Hindi and Mishing languages. Currently, he is a lecturer on acting at Jyotichitraban Film and Television Institute of Kalipara, Guwahati.

Anup Hazarika’s Charandas Chor is the ever-unforgettable play of Habib Tanvir and it has participated in many and national and international theatre festivals. It is translated from Hindi to Assamese by Anup himself.  The songs included in the play were made by him so as to get an Assamese flavor by taking the liberty of a director. He further asserts in case of the song Nagara Naam it was naturally a temple-song sung in Naam Gharas and he has used it basing on folk-musical forms of lower Assam. And other folk-song forms of Naokhela Geet, Biya Naam, Ojapali Songs, Kati Bihu Songs, Kamrup Lok Geet are also used by Anup is his plays.  Recreating those glorious past poor present and a very anxious future of Assam, Anup Hazarika’s play may get a warmful audience in the forthcoming festival. He says, “Our show is dedicated to Habib Tanvir, the legend of Indian Theatre who inspired me to love Folk Theatre.”

Then, who are the folks?

Dance, songs and ritual ceremonies of a group of people reflect their culture and traditions, such scenes can be seen in this festival when one comes across Pabitra Rabha’s play DUKON produced under the banner of Achik Theatre, under the direction of Pabitra, who himself is an NSD academician. He has described the culture of the Garos of Meghalaya, where mighty heroes and enchanting ladies lived, where the people were wise and where mighty deeds of valor were occurred. Pabitra, having knowledge of the world which has lost it primitive simplicity and brightness, looks back nostalgically to the past, although a past created by imagination and feels emotionally involved.  The medium of his play DUKON is in Garo dialect and it must be remembered that the State of Meghalaya, is a State of the country where three major tribes of Khasi, Jayantia and Garos dominate and the other fringe tribes inhabiting it are Hajongs, Rabhas, Baites etc director Pabitra Rabha belongs to Rabha community After his training and studies at NSD, he have worked to promote theatre in the areas of Assam.

He plunged himself into recruiting young talents into his Theatre retinue. He worked both in Dapon, The Mirror, Odalguri district, Assam and the Achik Theatre, Meghalaya. He is also better known as an actor by the public and has participated in the physical theatre festival held at Tokyo, Japan. His play MONGLEE participated in the last 12th Bharat Rang Rahotsav (India International Theatre—Festival). He was appreciated to exposing the folk and traditional elements of the Bodos with a new flavor in the play. His DUKON, which is going to be shown at Imphal is one in which the decadent contemporary scene of human degradation where moral and spiritual values have evaporated and violence and crime is dominating, through the medium of old traditions of the Garos.

The other play from the neighboring State of Nagaland is LICHABA’S DAUGHTER to be presented by Dreams Unlimited whose director Tiakumzuk Ao has based the format of his play on a folktale of the Ao tribe, which is one of the oldest tribes of Nagaland. Some 8/9 years ago a Nagamese play ‘Niseli’ participated first time in the 4th Bharat Rang Mahotsav 2004. Consequently, the TECHNICOLOR DREAMS (2) was presented by this group in the multi-language (English, Nagamese, Ao, Sema) in the 12th Bharat Rang Mahotsave – 2010. Yet, the play was the joint production of Dreams Unlimited and Jirsong Theatre Guwahati, under the guidance of Rabijita Gogoi an NSD alumnus from Assam. The Dreams Unlimited which was started from 2008 under the banership of joint North-East Zone Cultural Centre and National School of Drama, New Delhi with an intensive theatre—workshop. In that workshop 16 artists took part. The main purpose was to make an ordered society through the medium of Theatre by using their Naga talents. Since its release of Technicolor Dreams as a product of the said workshop, the group was recognized at the national level. This play has been shown in different areas of India. The play LICHABA’S DAUGHTER is directed by the Nagalander and it is highly appreciated. The brief story lines of the play directed by Tiakumzuk Ao are that the creator of this universe which was known as Lichaba had a daughter named Shungrola. This daughter incidentally married a human being and they lived together. But after a few years of their conjugal life she remembered her life in the celestial heaven as a beautiful damsel and so she requested her husband to go to her celestial home. Agreed upon her proposal, they went together to heaven with a lot of luxurious items and foodstuffs from the treasure-trove of Lichaba and they spent a happy conjugal life there. After sometime Shungrola became an enchanting lady, which have invited the jealous eyes of every spectator. Her husband saw these changes and wanted to know the reasons behind it. On his own investigation the husband saw these changes and wanted to know the reasons behind it. On his own investigation the husband came to the knowledge that the food stuff which his wife relished most was the human flesh. Soon after realizing their earthly and heavenly existence which can never be united the husband resolved and bade his wife Shungrola to return to her original home, the Heaven. Consequently, the husband succeeded in his persuasion and his wife turned into a bird and flew towards heaven. The play is an emotionally shocked tragic one. Among the three plays participating in this festival, the play from Nagaland, may probably be a play far from the contemporary frame-work of folklore—meaning. But one can see the Naga culture and traditional when one sees their accoutrements like spears and daos and colorful dresses.

In the upcoming festival, Manipur will be represented by selected seven groups of theatre hosted by the NT Theatre of Keishamthong Laisom Leirak, Imphal including its own play. This festival is not merely a festival of jocular demonstrations or entertainments, but for displaying the culture and identity and the said groups have already participated in the national and international levels too. This festival, which one may consider a splendid façade, but its tranquil placidity can be seen when the groups endeavor to expose their own identities.

The awaiting audience assembling around the NT Theatre complex situated at Changangei, Ucheckon, Imphal to Malom Tulihal airport, may expect some classics of world class. The audience will see hoardings and advertisement boards in and around the complex and the roadsides. It is reported that every group is polishing their own productions with creative competitiveness. The said festival which will commence from Feb 19, 2011 for ten days may perhaps be a centre of Theatre-enthusiasts discussing their own views or a gossip-centre of cynics. The groups which are standing on queue line ANTIGONE of Theatre—Mirror, Haobam Marak Thingel, Imphal, whose director Naba Wareppa describes his play as a tale of two withstanders. And it is based on the late Dr IR Babu’s Manipur translation of the play. And another play HANG LAI (Marionettes) scripted and directed by Yumnam Rajendra of Panthoibi Natya Mandir will be the inaugural show.

In 2004 Yumnam Rajendra wrote and directed “HANGLAI” (Marionettes) which received many invitations from theatre festivals both in India and abroad. And they will be followed by DEAL REPERTORY THEATRE, Chajing’s play MOONISU JAGOI SHABISHU (Bhagavat Jukiam), the lone Sanskrit play of the festival will also be one of the star attractions of the festival. Director P Khagendra’s accurate and skilful designs and stylization may bring the glorious past of the country. Another play on the line is Banian Repertory Theatre, Wangkhei Angom Leikai’s play RAJARSI BHAGYACHANDRA scripted by MC Arun and directed by MC Thoiba. And the next one is Khoriphaba Artistes’ Association, Nambol’s THE FIRE AND THE RAIN which is translated from Girish Karnad’s play by its director Kh Ranabir, whose superb directorial venture may bring forth a new taste to the spectators. The more interesting feature of the festival is the fact that the premier show will be ANTIGONE of The Theatre Mirror, one of the pioneering theatre groups of Manipur, whose director Naba Wareppa is trying to give a new interpretation of the famous Greek play in consonance with the contemporary scene in Manipur. And another credit may go to my play ‘Mythical Surrender’, directed by Ningthouja Deepak by his untiring efforts has brought my play into public limelight.  The director says : ‘It is a natural phenomenon that a mother loves a child born by her but if the child is an unwanted one born out of unholy alliance, then the mother is even bound to kill the child who grows up to adapt the callous nature of the rapist.  And lastly she surrendered herself to the snake like people only for name’s sake. Yet, she was carrying and howling incessantly up to the last lines of the play … oh, my dear son, my precious! Jewel of my heart, but the son of the enemy ….’

The festival will be concluded by CHARANDAS CHOR of BAA (The Creative Breeze) of Assam and one can expect a unification of cultural differences and ethnic clashes among the groups of the Northeast region of India.

*The article is written by Budha Chingtham.

*The article was written before the Festival started.

(Courtesy: The Sangai Express)

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