Theatre on the eastern horizon

The changing idioms of Manipuri theatre
Budha Chingtham
Contd from previous issue
One example of such an extraordinary theme is “ Mythical Surrender” of NT Theatre Manipur (Best original Script, Mahindra Excellence in Theatre Award, META winning play by Budha Chingtham), directed by Ningthouja Deepak , one of the finest young directors of Manipur.
In short , the episodes of the play may happen anywhere in a war zone. “Rape”, the most abominable human activity has been a weapon among factions in war since many years. And the unwanted product of such an abominable war activity is branded as “ the offspring of enemy”, termed as “little killers” or “children of misfortune and bad memory” and many more. In such a vicious atmosphere, the horrible and absurd episode of a mother killing her own bastard son by shooting is boldly presented on stage. Such types of plays has been presented by different theatre groups of Manipur on stage since the last few years.
The forceful idioms of such a kind of new theatre has given a shocking impetus to the intellect .
I started writing plays with a short Radio Drama in the early 80s. It was concerned with the political issue at that time . I was experimenting in plays which dealt with a new political expressions. My play “Mythical Surrender” uses water as metaphor with different impressionistic sound effects and elegiac atmosphere covering from beginning to end. I also use different anti-realistic dramatic techniques in this play.
The play may be said to be an extremely serious modern tragedy. The mother had to kill her own son due to demands of the time and place. The act of killing one’s own child which is quite unconventional which again would be treated as a tragedy in the conventional sense turns into a happy ending story if one looks at it from the angle of a patriot who would go to any extent for the love of his/her motherland.
Thus the trend of seeking a new mode of expression at the onset of serious drama seems to increase a lot during the last decade. To mention a few of the “new tool kits” aptly used by the new experimentalists is the comment on the current social and political issues by using our indigenous folk and traditional forms. The devise of “Reinterpretation” is very important in such mode of production. It is such a way that the different theatre creators are trying different methods of re-interpretation in different subjects. The problems dealt in such a framework are human problems and a search of new political movement and vision.
Directors like Late Chingtham Banikanta, Ranbir Khoisnam, Kshetri Jugindro, Utttamkumar Naorem, Toijam Shila Devi prioritise live performances. Their mode of performance falls between traditional genre, combining dance, excessive body work, light and sound in a new way.
The changes brought about in Manipuri Theatre in this context are the new approaches in dramatic text. The new change which we may appreciate is the method of production by visual dramaturgy, the expression of the inner feelings of the text without marring the text. In such process of play- production what we see clearly is the method of expressing all the structural elements and inner feelings of the text by visual narration.
So, in such productions many literary texts are interpreted by using non-verbal devices like dummy, large doll, mime, dance, stylized acting characters with histrionic personality disorder, exaggerated degree of emotional expression, excessively sentimental behaviour etc.
In short such a production is pastiche of all available devices in modern literature in Manipur. Such hodgepodge and hybrid images recreating into new communicating lines seem to dominate contemporary Manipuri Theatre. Such a change is accompanied by thematic change in playwright’s text and director’s new approach.
Again, there are also a few directors who have been carrying on their works by assimilating historical facts with dramatic fictions. Such directors and playwrights in their attempt to give the contemporary feel even distort historical figures. The performance of this kind of plays is mostly done on the space that is non-theatrical most importantly on the historical site, site specific performance or the environmental site. By transforming the non-theatrical space into a performance space and thereby creating a direct relation they form an intimate layer with the audience. Some plays that can be mentioned in this regard are B. Banamali Sharma’s “Maya”, Md. Zuma Khan’s “Kaidongpal”, N. Bhumeshor’s “Loktak Langscape Theatre Project”.
The question that arises here is who is going to study such changing patterns in contemporary Manipuri Theatre. Are the present audience in accordance with the changes ? This question is very important. But how far they have been progressive in studying and interpreting these highly experimental works and theories? In these sphere there are only a handful.
 Arts, aesthetics, creativity in human life are boundless and the number of these handful must increase. It is rightly said that the artistic dream is quite impossible to be appreciated without an artistic heart. In short it is almost true that our so called critics are not working hand in hand. Or are our critics alienated from the new trend ? In such an atmosphere of schism between critics and experimentalists, it is impossible for the common people to adjust to the works of the experimentalists. Yes, such things are everywhere in the world. It is impossible to turn the general public into sophisticated audience.
In the present international scenario of world theatre, though Manipur is highly acclaimed as one of the fore runners, the contribution of theatre critics and performance specialists remains inadequate. The new trend in the contemporary Manipuri theatre demands a closer contact between critics, audience and theatre creators.
Budha Chingtham is a prominent theatre personality, playwright and critic