Single Act That Captures A Dozen Wounds Of Manipur

CHENNAI, Feb 12: Most of us know that the Indian Railways has the largest network in the world. But to hear that Imphal, the capital of Manipur, is not connected by rail, stops you in your tracks. It’s something actor Ojas SV says within minutes of beginning her play, Le Mashale’, on the life of human rights activist Irom Sharmila, and it’s a fact that still stuns people.

“The Armed Forces Special Powers Act has been in force in Manipur since 1958, but very few people across the country seem to realize how draconian it is,” says Ojas, a lecturer from Pune University. She has been travelling around the country since May 2010 performing her one-act play on the life of Irom Sharmila, who has been fasting for the repeal of the act for 10 years, and the effect of the act on the lives of ordinary Manipuris.

At Loyola College on Friday morning, she performed to a packed audience that started by sniggering at her but settled into silence and even shock a few minutes into the performance. Ojas uses Sharmila’s story as the background of her play that touches on various aspects of life in Manipur, the people’s protests, as well as the way the Indian government has ignored the history of the north-east. With just a few props a bamboo staff, a chain, a crumpled newspaper and some flowers she evokes the horror of rape, killings and mysterious disappearances that the locals place at the hand of the army.

Her performance has influences of Hindi playwright Habib Tanvir, Kolkata-based theatre director Pranab Mukherjee, and film director Chandraprakash Dwivedi.

“Often, there is disbelief from the audience,” she says. “But all I want to do is create awareness that such atrocities take place in our country.” Ojas, who has been part of the Narmada Bachao Andolan, says she was deeply moved by Irom Sharmila’s fast. “Last year, when Malayalam writer Civic Chandran was in Pune with his play Panthamenthiya Pennungal’ (Women with Torhes) on Manipur, he needed it translated into English and Hindi. I decided to do it,” says Ojas. Over the next four days and four nights, she translated and practiced the play and hit the stage. “Today was my 61st performance,” says Ojas, who did 10 performances in Madurai this week.

She also did her play at the University of Madras on February 11, and will also be doing shows at Ethiraj College and Spaces in Besant Nagar on Saturday and at Stella Maris on Monday morning. “Then I’m headed to Gujarat and to Manipur to do the play,” she says. “People in Imphal are very appreciative of this play as they feel an outsider’s perspective is important to carry their message and their struggle forward.”

*Reported by Shalini Umachandran

(Courtesy:  TNN)

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