This grant supports a film that will document the mobile theatre or, as the locals call it, the Bhramyaman theatre in Assam. The film will record the transformation in themes and repertoire of this genre of performance, capture the experience and perspectives of its promoters, directors, actors, technicians and stagehands, and document the impact of globalisation on its practice.
Merajur Rahman Baruah is a documentary filmmaker who studied at the Film and Television Institute of India. His proposal informs us that theatre (Ankiya Nat) in Assam dates back to the 16" century. This depiction of the triumph of good over evil through dance and drama metamorphosed in the 1960s to its current form. But right up to the 1970s the mobile theatres would pay tribute to the earlier form by presenting short mythological skits with music before the start of their plays. The proposed film will make references to these earlier plays. Though originally. based on mythology and folklore, this theatre now imparts social messages and entertains the rural masses. “~
The film will place Mr Achyut Lahkar at the centre since he is the pioneer of mobile theatre and established the first travelling company, Nataraj Theatre, in 1963. Nataraj Theatre’s Beula, was the longest running play in Assam until 2003, when the Theatre closed down. He introduced twin stages which enabled scenes to shift from one stage to another, “making the theatrical art form absolutely unique and introducing the notion and practice of cinematic theatre,” says Baruah.
Today the uniqueness of the mobile theatre in Assam is buttressed by the topicality and diversity of its repertoire—from mythological plays and original Assamese ‘scripts to the adaptation of Hollywood blockbusters like Titanic and Godzilla. The mobile theatre industry in Assam has grown rapidly in the last 40 years. There are now 30 full- - fledged professionally run companies, touring the entire state for nine months in the year, each staging at least three to four plays. The annual turnover of the mobile theatres is Rs 20 crore. Baruah says, “Every year, theatre aficionados pack the makeshift tents in droves making the mobile theatre the biggest entertainment industry in the entire Northeast of India leaving the mainstream cinema far behind.”
The film will explore the various kinds of plays staged by the mobile theatre, the ‘issues they deal with, and how the genre has transformed from presenting mythological and folk stories to contemporary themes with social and political implications. The filmmaker will also travel with several theatre companies across rural Assam. The narrative of the film will be constructed through the experiences and perspectives of the directors, actors, technicians and stagehands. For example, the film will capture the life of a three-year-old child actress, the star attraction of the play, Deuta Aru Maina (Mother, Father and’Daughter), which will be juxtaposed with the journey of a veteran actor who has been acting for the last 30 years. The film will capture his daily routine, including recording him at rehearsals and his onstage performances.
Finally, one of the most exciting elements of the mobile theatre is that all the revenue is generated through ticket sales alone. The ticket prices range from Rs 30 to Rs 100. Moreover, it is mandatory for mobile theatre companies to contribute 40 per cent of their income towards the development of schools, colleges and village clubs. Baruah says, “Mobile theatres concurrently perform social service by generating funds for the sustainable development of the village institutions. This kind of arrangement is perhaps
the only one of its kind in the world and this unique provision makes mobile theatres... 1 enduring for the reason that it becomes a social responsibility of the people to watch theatre and contribute towards the development of their village institutions.”
Perhaps this is the reason why people queue up to buy theatre tickets at 5 a.m. even in the remotest village of Assam.
This description is part of the institutional records created by IFA at the onset of the grant. The project may have changed in due course as reflected in the deliverables from the Grantee.
Grant No : 2008-0-011
Grantee Name : Merajur Rahman Baruah
Programme : Arts Research & Documentation
Grant Status : Completed
Start Date : 01-12-2008
End Date : 30-11-2009
Duration : One year (Four months extension)
Grant Amount : 499,500
Geographical Area of Work : Assam
Disciplinary Field of Work : Cinema, Performance Art, Theatre