A Paradox of Societal Reformation
Like any other organs of mass media, proscenium theatre is very much a part of our life. The illustrators in this medium are as tough as those of the newsmakers. Like, the newsmen, who harness all their energies to alert or make aware of the day today happenings around us, these proscenium players forecast the reality of the present contemporary society. However, a slight difference between the two is that, while newsmen condemn the venality of politicians, law enforcers and corrupt administrators in the form of direct reporting or editorial write up; the proscenium players interpret the retrospection of the societal conflict and tension with stylization of the body movement and dialogue. However, this intrapersonal oral medium of communication cannot rally its impact to the society without the help of newsmen due to the limitation of its receivers. The paradox arisen here is that, this society still does not recognize the importance of this medium of mass media - on its roles on reforming the society. The ignorance of the theatre culture as a source of wisdom by the so-called bureaucrats or politicians is the most unfortunate part.
The entry of proscenium theatre during the beginning of 1900 A.D. to the soil of Manipur, brought by the than colonial rulers to impact the societal culture for their administrative conveniences, perhaps turns as a boon rather than serving their purposed. The beginning was indeed strategic; people were almost influenced by the language and cultural tradition performed by the artists. It was well noted by scholars and theatre critics like Professor N. Tombi, (late)Prof L. Damodor, Dr. Lamabam Gojendro etc. that, since, proscenium theatre was first performed in this state during 1902, the popularity of this art grows far and wide. Bangali language, which was preconcievely accepted as the language of theatre, became popular among certain section of people of those days. People who assumed themselves as elite class were proud to use the language in addition to their mother tongue to show off their living status (there might also be other reason to let the people think themselves as member of a well to do family by using Bangali language). The performers who were brought by the colonial administrators had different plan rather than serving the purposed. The mind of an artist always differs with those of the policy maker. Indeed, performers always felt the soft corner; they were mostly driven by emotions. And it does make surprises as this medium turns as a lesson to the people of this land; to learn the love their culture. The logic behind the introduction of proscenium culture need not to go deeper, as it is a matter of records.
However, those colonial administrators, never did realized that the rich culture of this soil with a long traditions of performing different kinds of art form such as; lai haroaba, mukna kangjei, khulang eesei, maibi jagoi etc. at which even the coming of the ‘Vaisnav’ culture, during 18th century AD, could not demolished its richness other than adaptation. That is one reason at which the people of this land began to utilize proscenium culture for their own caused.
Instead of dissolving their mind and soul to the art brought from outside, the highly potential artist, playwrights, and directors started performing the original context of this land. For instance, in 1922 Lairenmayum Ibungohal wrote NARA SINGH, in 1924 Dr. L. Kamal wrote DEVJANI, in 1930 Sorokhaibam Lalit wrote SATI KHONGNANG and ARREPPA MARUP, in 1931 and 1935 Arambam Dorendrajit wrote MOIRANG THOIBI and BHAGYACHANDRA, in 1939 Hijam Anganghal wrote POKTABI IBEMMA, etc. these are few of the example. All these plays provoked the origin, identity and self-realization to the people of this land. These plays had indeed implanted the concept of self-realization among the common people.
After Manipur regained independent from the British and was annexed to the Indian union on 15 October 1949, theatre trend changes as according to the passage of time. Playwrights, Directors and artist started discussing the societal structure of Manipur. And sometime they started criticizing openly on the colonial-hang-over mindedness of the people of this state. As to the word of renowned theatre critics and scholar, (late) Professor L. Damodor - the later part of 1960s and the beginning of the 1970s heralded Modernisms or Adhunika in Manipuri literature and drama bringing forth new perception and intense awareness hitherto unknown. There was acute consciousness and sensibility of living in a period of crisis in the minds of the writers because of the first changing scenario in the politico-socio-economic conditions, global movement of the youths and above all nihilism. The impact of science and technology, psychology and philosophies for changes swept to Manipur. The indispensable conditions of the times and the dynamics of change are responsible for the metamorphosis of any art form including theatre.
This was the juncture where renown playwright, Gitchandra Tongbra(1913-1996) utilized theatre platform or proscenium auditorium as a forum for discussion, debate and evaluation of the problems of the society and the human condition. To his anguist over the societal phenomena of those days he had written play like ‘Chengni Khujai’(the begging bowl) which pictured the present democratic system, ‘Hingminnaba’ which he discussed on the conflict of the society due to differences of religion. At one of his play ‘ Yaosang Kangou’ he tried the people to think again on the problem of so many festival to this little land.
The invasion of westernization which had greatly affected the traditional Manipuri society was critically analyzed and displayed to public by late Arambambam Somarendro at his plays “Judge Sahib Ki Eemung” (1968), “Leipaklei” (1993), and “Sanatombi”(2001). The playwright has also reminded the people of this state about those forgotten heroes who fight against the Burmese invasion, during seven years devastation period at his play “ Sakkhangkhidraba lanmi” (1989).
The face of Manipuri proscenium theatre changes fast according to the passage of time. From dealing to entertaining factors and cultural enhancement, the theatre trends has directly inclined towards the reality of life. Certain splendoured theatre personality like – Heisnam Kanhailal, Lokendro Arambam and Ratan Thiyam etc., has started neo-contemporary theatres which has emphasized more towards the bringing for peace to this land in particulars and the world in general.
In the word of internationally acclaimed theatre personality, Ratan Thiyam, ‘theatre’ is a composite form of performing art. He further stated, “There is no strict limitation of space for performing this art form”. However, Thiyam’s shows his essence of patriotism and love for human kinds through out his theatre works by compulsorily utilizing the cultural aesthetics of his own land, its myths, legends, cosmic rituals, distilling nativism to universalism propounding his love of humanity, peace and non-violence. On the other hand, ‘drama’ which is a composition of prose or verse adopted to be acted on a stage, in which a story is narrated by means of dialogue and action, and is represented with accompanying gesture, costume and scenery as in real life, is the essential component of theatre, says noted theatre activist Dr. N Premchand. So, literature and aestheticism naturally come as the soul of this performing art. That is why; as for the Manipuri society ‘proscenium’ auditorium is still considered as the appropriate conventional platform for this art.
However, ‘Sumang Leela’ or “Courtyard play” which is the only traditional theatre of Manipur has taken a different shape on these modern days. It is indeed disheartening that most composition produced these days in this traditional performing art has been materialized for commercial purposed rather than following the aged old aesthetics traditions. What is unfortunate in the part of ‘Sumang Leela’ is the carelessness of the performing artist in maintaining discipline as well as lack of proper contain of literature and cultural aesthetics of this land. It is well known that most of the “sumang leela” has now turned for entertainment purposed rather than deeply going to the issues; (if not all). Both the proscenium artist and the courtyard play artist equally know the importance of preserving the artistic culture of this land while doing any performances. But the demand for survival had made the “sumang leela” artist to incline toward circus-tic performance at which many people are always enthusiastic to go for. May be it is fortunate that these two has separated in one way and is recognized as separate medium. As far as every performers know that a good drama is the retrospection of the societal conflict or tension accumulated in a systematical structure with plots and climax with the imaginary creativity skill of a person called, ‘playwright’ which can be placed at a performing space by a skillful director, proscenium theatre or contemporary plays will ever remain enshrined to the holistic platform.
Drama no doubt is a nation’s conscience. It shows what are actually happenings in our society and promulgate the people in realizing their mistake. Quoting what Bertolt Brecth, the great German theatre director cum playwright, (late) Prof. L. Damodor has rightly said that proscenium drama or plays are still a tool for social engineering. It is a performance, which enables the audience to properly understand what is lacking in the society. The changing contemporary theatre production style or in the other word, neo-contemporary plays, besides its effortless work to safe their own traditional culture, has started systematically pointing their finger tips towards the defect of the local administration; aggressiveness of the upper or lower ranking employee of the so-called authority and so and so.
It is worth mentioning how Hiesnam Kanhailal’s controversial play “Droupati” has motivated the women of Manipur to take up extreme form of agitation on 14th of July, 2004 against the brutal atrocity of the Indian Army under the shadow of the ‘Arm forces special power act, 1958. Earlier, this renowned theatre personality had shown the present day society at his play “Pabet”, “Tamnalai’ etc. It was indeed his neo-theatrical invention, which mostly approach towards instinct and intuition that alerts the audiences to the resilience of human spirit in countering the dominant spirit of our time. During the later part of the 1980s how could this society forget the effort of Gyanashyam Kshtri, who had portrayed the corrupt and grotesque system of practice within the various politicians of this state in his play “Election”? How could we ever left aside the solo performance of Miss Ak.Sobita under the direction of Ch. Sharat of Forum for laboratory Theatre at their production “Hayengee Nupi” (Tomorrow’s Women) which had promulgated the women of this society to courageously struggle for their rights. These are just few of the plays cited just for reference.
Manipur has long been suffered from the decade’s old armed conflict between armed opposition groups and the security personnel. The present day scenario happening every single day has paralyzed the movement of every living soul of this state. Many innocents are victims of the gunfight between the conflicting parties. With emotional pain and anger, HeisnamTomba of Kalakshetra, one of the pioneer theatre groups in Manipur, has portrayed the fate of the civilians in his outstanding play “Kangkhathang”. On the other hand L. Kishoworjit, the theatre director of the “Paradise Theatre” has timely presented the translated version of Bertolt Brech’s Mother Courage and her children as “Thouna Phabi Ima” at which he motivated the people of this land the need for survival under extreme tolerance during such a condition.
In quest of peace; a world without war, the world still praise noted theatre director Ratan Thiyam for his play “Uttar Priya Darshi” and his recent productions “Hey Nungshibi Prithibi” (My earth, My Love) and “Nine hills one valley”.
On the other hand eminent theatre scholar, Arambam Lokendro’s “Awang Nongpok lamgee Angangsing” (Children of North East) which he tried the world forum to focus to the problems of the childrens which survived admist wars and crime etc. shows the reality of the present day and give a moment to ponder upon the fate of the childrens of this region which will be the ‘adult’ of tommorrow.
To bring a solution to this conflict trodden state of Manipur within various ethnic communities, re-production of the Arambam Somenrandro’s play “Nungshithel” by Royal Theatrical Club’s director M. Akshayakumar will remain as history forever. There are also many who are worth praising on their contribution to waking up this slumbering society. In such case director of the Deal Repertory Theatre, Khogendra’s productions like ‘Ngairi’ at which playwrights Jatishwore Sharma pictured the present state of contemporary Manipuri society and others like the works of playwright cum director of the Highway Theatre, L. Dhananjoy, director of the Theatre Mirror, Naba Wareppa, etc. had played a tremendous role. If not these theatre activist work hard beside the negligence of the government towards this art form, the so-called culture of Manipur, at which every competent ministers, bureaucrats, or whoever, is proud of while delivering their speech at any public platform would not have found any applauses.
On one hand the changing world has created tension to some of the theatre group like Aryan Theatre, Banyan Theatre etc. The fear of exploitation to this little state from the impact of globalization is mobilized at one Aryan theatre’s play “Ta Kuber” which was written by noted young generation playwright L. Dhananjoy and directed by S. Rajen Singh. Banyan Theatre’s Director, MC Thoiba’s production on MC Arun’s “Rajshree Bheigyachandra” is perfect and timely. The production teams’ enthusiasm in quest of a new leader like Maharaja Bheigyachandra is easily noticed. Professor MC. Arun’s Rajshree Bheigyachandra is indeed a neo-contemporary analysis of the glorious king of Manipur. Of lately NT theater’s “Mythical Surrender” (director – Deepak Ningthouja, playwright-Budha Chingtham) had portray the happening of day today life in the state where commoner always landed between the devil and the deep blue sea.
If we opened up few pages of our histories, it would not be much difficult to remember how the people of this state owe worthless credit to the theatre activist of Manipur. Theatre had reminded us many of the patriotic events that once we had forgotten.
It is indeed the work of the Theatre activist of the Roomahal which had made the people of this state, recognize 13th of August as the Patriot’s day. The patriotism scenes of our great ancestor who had once sacrificed their life for the cause of their countrymen are brought to live once more by the harness of this theatre personal. Present day Manipuri people now understood the heroic patriotic essence of our forefather Bir Tikendrajit, Thangal General and many others. To add more, the Roomahal Theatre artist pay floral tribute to those departed heroes on 13th of August 1951 at Bir Tikendrajit Park and performed their historical play “Bir Tikendrajit” which was written and directed by noted theatre activist Meitram Bira. Since, that day the curtain of ignorance of the state authority was raised and till today we are able to pay homage to our departed heroes who laid their live fighting for the cause of their motherland’s freedom.
However, this present day society seems to be oblivious to the important contribution of these people.
At this crucial time and position, many theater activists of this state works effortlessly to bring up this highly prestigious form of art. For instant, Naba Warreppa President of the Theatre Center Manipur tirelessly organizes theater festival at different rural places from time to time. His theatre group ‘Theatre Mirror’ in association with various theatre organism like ‘SEEMA’of Thoubal, ‘Thanga Artists’ Association’ of Thanga has effortlessly tried to spread the culture of proscenium theatre to each and every nook and corner of Manipur. Revealing the aims and object of spreading theatre culture towards rural sections of this society, Naba Warreppa said, “ Establishment of an open platform where creative dreamers could meet together with their open minds, breaking down the Barrier of differences between the urban and the Rural characters, and opening a new cultural bridge, avoidance of myopic vision which creates Negative attitudes of skepticism, egoism, escapism and nepotism and establishment of an exotic meeting point where the lofty and exquisite ideas of love, peace m harmony and unity could be achieved”. Besides, many other theatre organisms like ‘Manipur Dramatic Union’ (MDU), a pioneer of the theatrical movement in Manipur too had given a ray of hope to memorizing the old good work by organizing seminars and theatre festivals. The initiation of discussion on the problems and prospects of Manipuri theatre by these theatre groups was indeed some steps towards recognizing the fact and reality on the contribution of theatre in reforming this society.
The gift of Manipuri theatre – the proscenium theatre as well as the neo-contemporary theatre will ever remain enshrined to the history of Manipur. Whether it is political, socio-economic problem or societal conflict neo-theatrical players have always put it ahead of the problem giving a tip for authorities to rethink on the matters. As saying goes on theatre is a tool for social engineering (Bertolt Brech), it is indeed high time for every one of us including the competent authority to utilize this product for the good causes.