Four great plays of the tragic playwright

Dr Salam Shantibala Devi
Contd from previous issue
I expressed my fear over his impulsiveness telling him how could he destroy his writings as he could improve them afterwards by working over them. He answered in all seriousness –
“I dislike working over improving a bad product. I had tried to do it at first. But seeing the bad and mediocre outcome my creativity suffered a setback. So, if the mediocre result is going to tell upon my future line of creativity and innovation, I would rather destroy it without any trace and that is my wish. The new product that emerges out of the destruction of the old gives me boundless satisfaction.”
It seems that Budha Chingatham’s plays manifest an explosion of his heart after seeing and experiencing the plight of this land. His character in these plays cannot be measured with conventional yardstick. They are full of instant changes in their mental positions. There is found in the yet unpublished trilogy entitled Lampi a dedication. “To all the Angry Young Generations” at the beginning of each play in the trilogy. There we may remember what has been written on P. 64 of the Coffee Table Book published on the occasion of the 10th Anniversary of META – “Celebrating 10 years of Excellence in Theatre India” – “Budha Chingtham is greatly respected for bringing Manipuri Theatre to India masses. Budha 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 the AFSPA “Which has close affinity with his To all the Angry Young Generations”. At times autobiographical elements are also found in these plays.
Budha Chingtham started making his presence felt in National and international festivals since 2008. Before, he was mostly known as a theatre critic. From the year 2008 Budha had started writing play after play. To mention a few of them – Black Orchid, Mythical Surrender, The priestess, Dreams From My Room, Kaidongpal, Lampi, Lamana, Lamdaihtel, etc. These plays had bagged Best Script Awards and they had competed in national and international festivals. His first play Black Orchid (2008) not only won the Best Script as well as Best Production Award (2008) in the All Manipur Short Play competition organized by Theatre Centre, Imphal but also could get entry in the International Theatre Festival of India. Moreover, this play inaugurated the Stand Auditorium the ISBN International Summit, Delhi. Again, it was selected for stage performance in the Bharat Ranga Mahotsav International Theatre Festival of India as one of the highly political three plays with this remark, “The thematic impulse that make up the component of the festival are as eclectic as they are creative. The human predicament in times of Political turmoil is seen in Lahore Nahi, Dekhya, the Caine Mutiny Court Martial and Black Orchid Festival Book, BRM 2009.
Along with this I have to mention that the play Mukyetnaba Lila Mari (Conflict Tetralogy) is the first tetralogy in the journey of Manipuri theatre. Besides there are four solo plays among his writing. This tetralogy also includes one solo or one actor play. It is called Dreams From My Room.
The play Dreams From My Room was produced by the Pan Manipuri Theatre, Awang Sekmai, The actor, Director is Chingtham Banikanta. The solo got META entry in 2015 and it was nominated for awards in Best Original Script, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Innovative Sound Design, Best Lighting Design and was awarded for Best Innovative Sound Design. Naturally the Solo play has special interest for me. So, I interviewed the playwright in detail on such plays.
Let them shoot at me. Let them shoot at me as many times as they like. Even though you fire thousand bullets at my chest, I’m not leaving this room. Fire! I expose my chest for a thousand bullets to hit me, But, this is an artist’s room. You may perhaps defeat this body that covers my body and spirit. But you cannot ever defeat the spirit of a true artist.
(Dreams From My Room, P. 66)
Dreams From My Room is an achievement in the career of Budha as a dramatist. This play shows us a transformation of his dramatic structurisation of biographical elements. In Dreams From My Room the playwright has metamorphosed himself into the source material reflecting his own life, in fact, it can be said to be close to a semi-autobiographical play. It shows an unreal and dream like situation. He often addresses the audience directly, turning them in characters in the play. The performers would sometimes be dressed in Meitei Khudei loin cloth, old coats and sometimes would be dressed in modern mans dress using an American great coat or black trousers. The narrator would become the actor, director or performer narrator, actor or commentator, thus changing into forty to fifty persons using transformation technique.
It is said that this solo drama is very much related to the front side out house of the writer where the rehearsal of the play is conducted. He says his plays had been written after his improvisation under this out house. The sets and required props were all used before at this place and afterwards he wrote the play. Here are the writers’ memories of his parents with whom he had been separated very young and how he started getting in to the theatre, the way he worshipped his teachers, how he remembered their teachings, especially the teaching that things that theatre should be used as a critique of one’s own reality are the things that are reflected in this solo theatre. Besides he has created a very lyrical drama using inter communal conflict, child soldier employment etc. In real life too, the playwright says habitually, “Theatre is my life. Theatre is my oxygen,” and he has imported his own phrases into the mouth of the performers. In another scene of the solo he says, “I won’t be able to leave this place where I made my rehearsals. For me this room is the most active part of my life”. Thus he has made a unique identity of his place of theatre. For these reasons, I regard the play Dreams From My Room as a dramatization of his antobiography.
Budha Chingtham himself has the makings of a good solo performer. A good actor himself, one cannot forget the performance he gave in the role of Sakharam Binder in the All Manipur Inter Office Drama competition in the 1990s’s at the Manipur Dramatic Union Budha Chingtham was selected for the Best Actor Award also.
That is why I asked him in the intricacies of acting in a solo drama and also that of writing one such. I wondered how a single actor could perform a solo play. Because when a play with a full team of performers prove to be insufficient to get sustained interest from the audience, in fact, the audiences seem to be leaving the show before it was over, how could a single actor draw the interest of the audience, that too, for not less than an hour at a stretch is question for me. To be contd