Four great plays of the tragic playwright

Dr Salam Shantibala Devi
Budha Chingtham (b. 7 December 1957) is one of the great playwrights in Modern Manipuri dramatic literature. He is also a highly regarded theatre and art critic, a multifaceted personality, he is a director as well as choreographer. He had been shortlisted four times in the Best Original Script Writer Competition organized by the Mahindra Theatre Festival People, moreover he had been awarded the META Best Original Script writer 2011, in the same event.
META is one of Indian theatre industry’s premier awards. META provides a concrete platform to celebrate and promote theatre’s varied elements like playwriting, set design, costume and light design, direction and performance. Instituted by the Mahindra Group, META aims at bringing together the best of Indian theatre from the years gone by. The awards consists of a specially designed trophy and a cheque of Rs. 1,00,000 for the Best Production, Rs. 75,000/- for Best Original playwright and Rs 45,000/- for all other award categories.
A few words on META Festival in short for Mahindra Excellence in Theatre Award is called for in this connection. Every year the organisers select a minimum of ten (10) entries from the length and width of the Indian sub-continent and on an average they receive 300 to 400 entries. Out of these, the ten (10) shortlisted plays will be given a chance to perform on stage in the city of Delhi from which a final jury will be asked to select the best of the best. The Best play Award will be given over a sumptuous dinner in the world class luxury hotel, the Hotel Taj Mahal. META has followed the tradition inexorably upto the present.
Budha Chingtham happens to be the only person who had been nominated four times in this prestigious festival and who had received also the best Original script Award in the history of META. That must be why it is written on the Coffee Table book of the 10th Edition of META – “Budha Chingtham is greatly respected for bringing Manipuri theatre to Indian masses. Chingtham’s work as a playwright has evoked fervid emotions. His Manipuri plays are crafted around a central theme of the troubles faced by the locals due to AFSPA.”
Budha Chingtham had penned more than eighteen plays till date. His journey from a theatre critic to a playwright with his stage play Black Orchid that had bagged him an entry to National as well as international festivals. The play Black Orchid was written in 2009 and was produced under the Direction of Toijam Shila Devi of Prospective Repertory Theatre, Nambol. Some other important plays of the playwright are 1. Mythical Surrender (2010), 2. A Far Cry (2011), 3. The Priestess (2012), 4. Sub-Human People (2013), 5. Dreams From My Room (2014), 6. Kaidongpal (2015), 7. Venomous People (2015), 8. The Suicide Room (2016), 9. Lamdaithel (2017), 10. House of Fire (2019), 12. Lampi (2017), 13. Lampi II (2017), 14. The Smoky Lake (2018), 15. Imagidi Ningthem Yeknabagi Macha (My Royal Son the son of my Enemy, 2019), 16. Hi-O Hi (Boat-O Boat, 2016) and 17. Wild Water (2020) etc.
The only published play is the Conflict Tetralogy that had brought Budha the Meta Award. This volume has also given us a chance to analyze his experimental dramaturgy in book form enhancing the study since we had already enjoyed it as stage plays. I had personally been waiting for this opportunity since a long time. It won’t be out of context to remind the reader that I myself had been insisting upon him to publish his plays as well as his critical appreciation of theatrical products on stage.
I, having tried my hands on some plays had an eagerness to study the intricacies of his play structures. So I had a mind to study his plays in script. Therefore, on many occasions I used to bombard him with many questions on his stage craft and dramatic structures. On such occasions he had replied almost glibly “My plays are based upon reality, upon real acts that we see and fixed around us. Only thing is that I had added a little dramatic fiction on my own”. Such was his answer.
Again when I asked him about the method on theory of writing experimental plays he would say “First, we have to think realistically. Next we must turn it into an experimental play. We can turn towards experimentation only after digesting something. We can close the gap between the audience and the experimental performance with that means. Because the experimental theatre takes birth when a conventional play cannot voice what we are trying to speak. If we want to do experimental theatre we need to possess a philosophy of our own.”
Budha Chingtham’s plays have been able to make a place of their own at present. In his play structure as well as his diction, emotion reaches out to people as the most powerful factor, Alongside this factor of emotion a lyrical element is inherent throughout, After reading his play we come across a benign poet. His dialogues run with a poetic vein. Some examples are taken from his published plays :-
No, no, mother !
Never say such words
Your child is afraid terribly.
My body trembles uncontrollably
Don’t extinguish this life inside your womb.
On this earth closed with fine granary
Under this green circular vault
Filled with silver light
Upon the lap of Mother Nature
Allow me to play in liberty.
Mother: My sweet child,
The first sight your eyes will set upon
When you open your eyes in this world
Will be
The curly smoke rising from funeral pyres
Black and thick
Then again dried blotches of blood
That have dried upon corpses,
Yet once again the fresh spurts the blood
Gushing out of young bodies,
And these are not all,
When you open your eyes in this world
The color that you will see,
The white color only, white cloths be during bodies
In every house,
My sweet child, the first sound you will hear
Is the pitiful laments,
Of someone who has lost her child,
Of someone who has lost her husband
Only the painful lamentations of separated people
Yes, my sweet child, these are all
That you’ll see, you’ll hear
Today I also lament freely
After the enemy had left me totally violated
A poison plant sneaks into my womb.
(Mythical Surrender, P. 87-88)
* * * * * * * * *
From a wave to a wavelet
From a cliff to another cliff
The cloud thus hanging
Why do you panic in vain
Because you aren’t going to fall down,
From a wave to another wave
Free the body gestures.
Ye clouds, cover the cliffs
When your tender fingers touch
Turn O cloud into water droplets
Gather ye clouds over the pinnacle of the sky.
(The Priestess, P. 43)
* * * * * * * * *
Dream, dream red colored dream,
Dream, dream, red colored dream,
No, no, does my dream of pena
Not have any other color (To be contd0