Mobile Theatre
A poster of Kohinoor Theatre

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).

A still from the play ‘Titanic’

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 .

Gautam Ganguly

Ganguly is a retired ACS officer and sports enthusiast. He can be reached at: gautamganguly2012@gmail.com

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