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A dialogue on Proscenium Theatre

by IT Web Admin
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From the editor’s diary
Like any other organs of mass media, proscenium theatre is very much a part of our life. The illustrators in this medium are as tough as those of the newsmakers. Like, the newsmen, who harness all their energies to alert or make aware of the day today happenings around us, these proscenium players forecast the reality of the present contemporary society. However, a slight difference between the two is that, while newsmen condemn the venality of politicians, law enforcers and corrupt administrators in the form of direct reporting or editorial write up; the proscenium players interpret the retrospection of the societal conflict and tension with stylization of the body movement and dialogue. However, this intrapersonal oral medium of communication cannot rally its impact to the society without the help of newsmen due to the limitation of its receivers. The paradox arisen here is that, this society still does not recognize the importance of this medium of mass media – on its roles on reforming the society. The ignorance of the theatre culture as a source of wisdom by the so-called bureaucrats or politicians is the most unfortunate part.
Thanks to the State Tourism Department and the Art and Culture Department o the Government of Manipur. The theatre medium is once more put to the top by recognizing its value and by includingit as a part of the Sangai Tourism festival. And thanks to the Director of NT Theatre Manipur and his team for making the dream of theatre lover come alive by taking the major role in organizing the Asian Thetare Festival at Hongnemsang, Changangei, Imphal West.
Well, the entry of proscenium theatre during the beginning of 1900 A.D. to the soil of Manipur, brought by the than colonial rulers to impact the societal culture for their administrative conveniences, perhaps turns as a boon rather than serving their purposed. The beginning was indeed strategic; people were almost influenced by the language and cultural tradition performed by the artists. It was well noted by scholars and theatre critics like Professor N. Tombi, Prof L. Damodor, Dr. Lamabam Gojendro etc. that, since, proscenium theatre was first performed in this state during 1902, the popularity of this art grows far and wide. Bangali language, which was preconcievely accepted as the language of theatre, became popular among certain section of people of those days. People who assumed themselves as elite class were proud to use the language in addition to their mother tongue to show off their living status (there might also be other reason to let the people think themselves as member of a well to do family by using Bangali language). The performers who were brought by the colonial administrators had different plan rather than serving the purposed. The mind of an artist always differs with those of the policy maker. Indeed, performers always felt the soft corner; they were mostly driven by emotions. And it does make surprises as this medium turns as a lesson to the people of this land; to learn the love their culture. The logic behind the introduction of proscenium culture need not to go deeper, as it is a matter of records.
However, those colonial administrators, never did realized that the rich culture of this soil with a long traditions of performing different kinds of art form such as; lai haroaba, mukna kangjei, khulang eesei, maibi jagoi etc. at which even the coming of the ‘Vaisnav’ culture, during 18th century AD, could not demolished its richness other than adaptation. That is one reason at which the people of this land began to utilize proscenium culture for their own caused.
Instead of dissolving their mind and soul to the art brought from outside, the highly potential artist, playwrights, and directors started performing the original context of this land. For instance, in 1922 Lairenmayum Ibungohal wrote NARA SINGH, in 1924 Dr. L. Kamal wrote DEVJANI, in 1930 Sorokhaibam Lalit wrote SATI KHONGNANG and ARREPPA MARUP, in 1931 and 1935 Arambam Dorendrajit wrote MOIRANG THOIBI and BHAGYACHANDRA, in 1939 Hijam Anganghal wrote POKTABI IBEMMA, etc. these are few of the example. All these plays provoked the origin, identity and self-realization to the people of this land. These plays had indeed implanted the concept of self-realization among the common people.
After Manipur regained independent from the British and was annexed to the Indian union on 15 October 1949, theatre trend changes as according to the passage of time. Playwrights, Directors and artist started discussing the societal structure of Manipur. And sometime they started criticizing openly on the colonial-hang-over mindedness of the people of this state. As to the word of renowned theatre critics and scholar, Professor L. Damodor – the later part of 1960s and the beginning of the 1970s heralded Modernisms or Adhunika in Manipuri literature and drama bringing forth new perception and intense awareness hitherto unknown. There was acute consciousness and sensibility of living in a period of crisis in the minds of the writers because of the first changing scenario in the politico-socio-economic conditions, global movement of the youths and above all nihilism. The impact of science and technology, psychology and philosophies for changes swept to Manipur. The indispensable conditions of the times and the dynamics of change are responsible for the metamorphosis of any art form including theatre.
This was the juncture where renown playwright, Gitchandra Tongbra(1913-1996) utilized theatre platform or proscenium auditorium as a forum for discussion, debate and evaluation of the problems of the society and the human condition. To his anguist over the societal phenomena of those days he had written play like ‘Chengni Khujai’(the begging bowl) which pictured the present democratic system, ‘Hingminnaba’ which he discussed on the conflict of the society due to differences of religion. At one of his play ‘ Yaosang Kangou’ he tried the people to think again on the problem of so many festival to this little land.
The invasion of westernization which had greatly affected the traditional Manipuri society was critically analyzed and displayed to public by late Arambambam Somarendro at his plays “Judge Sahib Ki Eemung” (1968), “Leipaklei” (1993), and “Sanatombi”(2001). The playwright has also reminded the people of this state about those forgotten heroes who fight against the Burmese invasion, during seven years devastation period at his play “ Sakkhangkhidraba lanmi” (1989).
The face of Manipuri proscenium theatre changes fast according to the passage of time. From dealing to entertaining factors and cultural enhancement, the theatre trends has directly inclined towards the reality of life. Certain splendoured theatre personality like – (late) Heisnam Kanhailal, Lokendro Arambam and Ratan Thiyam etc., has started neo-contemporary theatres which has emphasized more towards the bringing for peace to this land in particulars and the world in general.

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