Time was when the ushering of autumn season was welcomed in our state for providing respite from heat and humidity besides igniting passion of theatre aficionados to watch plays performed by different mobile theatre groups and to derive immense aesthetic pleasure in an all pervading festive atmosphere.
The highly professional mobile theatre groups with their scintillating performance were prolific source of entertainment to the connoisseurs of dramas spread across length and breadth of Brahmaputra valley during the entire winter season. While the city of Guwahati had always been a reservoir of various recreational avenues with abundance of sports and cultural activities at any given time, the mobile theatre groups (Bhramyaman Natya Gosthi) became as inseparable as the dear annual festivals for the entertainment- starved suburb populace during the early 70s to mid 90s.
‘A nation is known by the stage’, goes the English saying. High dramatic sensibility, lofty artistic taste of the audience of Assam coupled with their euphoric response had a telling impact on the quality of mobile theatres in the formative years. Any performing art has always thrived on the positive response and patronage of its clienteles across the world. Inspired by the ecstatic response of the audience, irrespective of educational, cultural, ethnic and economic differences , one saw the gradual ascendency of the mobile theatre groups that had culminated into producing a number of breath-taking and stupendous plays ranging from , ‘Miri Jiyonri’, ‘Mahabharat’ to Shakespeare’s immortal creations from mid 70s onwards. (Barak valley excluded).
Travelling down memory lane, I fondly remember the sheer brilliance with which Shakespeare’s ‘Othello’ was presented in 1979 by Kohinoor Theatre; keeping close vigil on the minute details. We were overwhelmed by the quality of faithful recreation of Shakespeare’s classic.
The professional skill and competence with which the audience was transported to the Shakespearian age was mind blowing. Tohfique Rehman in the role of ‘Othello’ was just superlative and so was late Mahananda Sarmah in his role of ‘Iago’. The oft-quoted dialogue in the climax scene, ‘Put out the light and then…’ was brilliantly translated. The fact that the whole set of packed audience, many of whom unfamiliar with the drama, were kept glued to their seats magnify the extent of brilliance of the venture.
‘Andhakup’ , a suspense thriller, remains etched in memory primarily due to maestro, Dr Bhabendra Nath Saikia’s unmistakable mastery and deft touch. Written and directed by all respected Dr Saikia, the play was exciting and had kept the audience on tenterhooks till the end. Suren Mahanta in the role of police inspector was simply superlative. (1982).
Staging of ‘Mahabharat’, the epic, was a roaring success and heralded a new horizon in technical excellence for the mobile theatre groups. Watching the ‘Kurukshetra war’ on-stage was simply pulverizing for the connoisseurs. The sight of two arrows hitting each other coming from opposite direction and resultant flash of lightning was spectacular. ‘Lord Krishna’ in His chariot giving advice to ‘Arjuna’ had caught imagination of the audience. It can be safely asserted that no Indian state could even dream of staging ‘Mahabharat’ in 1983.
A milestone play titled, ‘Xurongor Xeshat’ (At the end of tunnel) became ravishingly successful in the year 1984. Superlative acting by all artists led by Tohfique Rehman, outstanding screen play, awe-arousing back ground music have all combined together to make the highly tensed drama unforgettable. Even when Akashvani Guwahati used to broadcast this drama, it was immensely popular. The visual impact of this drama was as enormous as that of all time hit films in Indian celluloid like ‘Dr Bezboruah’ and ‘Sholay’ etc.
Those of us always, wailing and lamenting for ‘ what we lack in our state’ and look for neighbouring state, need to be assured categorically that mobile theatres and their visual extravaganza s have been the embodiments of rich Assamese culture and aesthetic tradition.
‘Jatra’, ‘Bengal’s popular form of entertainment once upon a time, devoid of modernity, bereft of technology besides being too rustic, had little impact on modern populace and died its natural death. Mobile theatres in Assam in contrast have been going from strength to strength keeping perfect balance between modernity and tradition.
As an ardent buff, I feel that the first phase of glorious journey of Assam’s mobile theatre had reached its sky-rocketing climax with ‘Titanic’, directed by Hemanta Dutta. At a time when the whole world was overwhelmed by the million dollars worth Hollywood movie, we witnessed helicopter landing and the vast Atlantic on small stage! Theatrical adaptation of, ‘Titanic’ has received unanimous accolades across the country and even in Hollywood. Hemanta Dutta’s own performance in the role of captain of the sinking Titanic has been stunning.
At the risk of being branded as an ‘old timer’ suffering from ‘generation gap syndrome’, I would prefer to watch old classics on the stage rather than the present decadent effort to pamper and cater to the taste of ‘ Bollywood infatuated audience while offering my humble tribute to, Achyut Lahkar, Ratan Lahkar, and Krishna Roy the stalwarts , the doyen of Assamese mobile theatre .