Will Corona kill Bhramyaman Natya Gosthi?

Coronavirus pandemic is affecting Assam’s unique theatre's experiences, the dilemma is will it flourish again? Or will the entire movement face extinction in the near future?

Coronavirus pandemic is affecting Assam’s unique theatre's experiences, the dilemma is will it flourish again? Or will the entire movement face extinction in the near future?
Coronavirus pandemic is affecting Assam’s unique theatre's experiences, the dilemma is will it flourish again? Or will the entire movement face extinction in the near future?

Mobile theatre groups deserve financial supports from our government

Novel Coronavirus is virtually killing Assam’s unique theatre experiences and perhaps nobody can help it flourish again in the land of 15th-century Vaishnavite cultural icon, saint, and philosopher Srimanta Sankardev, who preached for a cultured society without any caste or class. Known as Bhramyaman Natya Gosthi (means mobile theatre group), these troupes move around the State (mostly Brahmaputra valley) for presenting attractive plays with all of their artistes, artisans, other workers, and necessary equipment and utensils. The commercial theatre session normally starts by the mid of August and it continues till Bohag (Rongali) Bihu in April every year. After three months gap, the theatre groups start preparation by June.

Annually they perform in nearly a hundred places braving all difficult situations and weather. As China originated deadly virus started smashing almost all the countries on the world affecting millions of million people with a huge number of casualties, India declared a nationwide lockdown. Prime Minister Narendra Modi initially declared the lockdown till 14 April and later extended till 3 May which has been elongated again for two more weeks.

Lahkar from Pathshala launched Nataraj Theatre in 1963 and developed the traditional way of presenting a play in the Assamese language.

The life-threatening virus puts the mobile theatres in trouble as they couldn’t finish the session properly due to the national shutdown. Moreover, they are worried if they could start their new session on time. They are also apprehensive of audience-responses in their shows till the Corona pandemic is scientifically resolved.

Assam today supports over 30 active theatre groups where each group comprises around 150 performers with other workers. A theatre group performs two evening shows a day in the session. They need to carry their pandals, stages, lighting & sound equipment along with other necessary appliances to every location where they perform. Most of the plays of these theatres are based on Assamese literature and folk tales. But sometimes mythological themes are also adopted by the playwrights. Many times, they have adopted modern themes on the stages relating to the lives of Lady Diana, Benojir Bhutto, Osama Bin Laden along with dramatic versions of Titanic, Jurassic Park, Othello, Hamlet, Anaconda, Kargil War, etc.

All popular theatre groups like Kohinoor Theater, Awahan Theater, Sankardev Theater, Hengul Theatre, Bhagyadebi Theater, Saraighat Theater, Bordoichila Theater, Chiranjib Theater, etc., worship Achyut Lahkar as the founder of the movement. Lahkar from Pathshala launched Nataraj Theatre in 1963 and developed the traditional way of presenting a play in the Assamese language. He also used modern systems of light and sound to enrich the productions.

The mobile theatre industry does a business of around Rs 10 crores annually where celebrated artistes earn handsome packages as remunerations. Many glamorous Assamese film actors have also joined the theatre groups as the state’s film business faces shrinkages in the last few decades. The theatre groups now proudly advertise the engagement of those popular film personalities.

“The commercial theatre movement supports thousands of families in our state. The dignified livelihood to them should be restored. Mobile theatre groups deserve financial supports from our government in Dispur,” said Ranjan Talukder, a theatre lover based in Pathshala. He also added that if the situation does not improve in the next few months, theatre groups would not be able to start their preparations.

Moreover, if audiences don’t get the confidence to enjoy the plays (until we can discover a specific medicine and vaccine to prevent Covid-19 complications), the entire movement faces extinction in the near future.

Note:
1. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of PGurus.

Nava Thakuria
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