Today (8th June 2020) is the second death anniversary of Sukracharjya Rabha (1977-2018), whom I lovingly called Sukra Da. He was my senior, my big brother. We both learned theatre from our Oja Kanhailal and Ima Sabitri. He was the founder-director of the theatre group Badungduppa Kalakendra, Rampur, an extended family of Kalakshetra Manipur. Under the guidance of late Heisnam Kanhailal, Sukracharjya Rabha started the theatre festival Under the Sal Tree in 2008 at his village Rampur. The first festival was jointly organized by Badungduppa Kalakendra and Kalakshetra Manipur, the theatre group founded by late Heisnam Kanhailal and Heisnam Sabitri.
On December 15th 2019, the Sri Rama Vidyakendra High School in Dakshin Kannada, staged a play with its children, in which the demolition of the Babri Masjid was enacted. In a scene that has gone viral on the internet, the children are seen to be screaming “Jai Shri Ram” as the set collapses and a narrator on a loudspeaker eulogises this moment claiming that the devotees of Hanuman have brought this structure down with whatever they could find.Kalladaka Prabhakar Bhat, who is the owner of the school and a leader of the Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh (RSS) has gone on record saying he was proud of the students and more such programs are planned in the future.
Contrast this with a play that Bidar’s Shaheen School staged opposing the controversial CAA bill. Although the text has not been made public (only an excerpt is what the author has had access to) at one place , allegedly a question is asked about what will happen if the Prime Minister Narendra Modi comes to ask for papers, in response to which someone says “Chappal se Maro“ ( hit him with slippers), which could be a literal dialogue or more commonly in Hindi / Urdu usage it refers to the act of shunning someone completely for the ridiculous nature of their proposition. The meaning rests in the proposition than in the literal image. In this case, the police issued a notice to the school.
Lapdiang Syiem performs ’Reach out to grasp roots – I stand uprooted’. The piece has been adapted from three poems by Esther Syiem. The performance draws strongly upon the story of U Thlen, using it as the main thread that looks into the issue of coal mining.
Why an Iraqi and an American in an Indian play, somebody asked me? Not to difficult to figure out:
I wanted an Indian army officer, Rajiv Kapoor, playing the part of the American, Robert Klarmann; I wanted a Kashmiri, Anwar Mir, playing the part of the Iraqi, Raza Husain. I would play with locale, idiom, make it real for us in this country, tell ourselves that we are no different from Robert and Raza.
Then I thought to myself, would the goons of the hyper-nationalistic ABVP, actually allow this to be staged? No way. I’ve seen how they operate, spitting venom, ready to cripple and kill.
Not important. Let the locale be Indian, let the characters be American and Iraqi. Maybe watching Soldiers’ Silence, audiences will put two and two together and say, hey, this could be happening in Kashmir too.
Sukracharjya Rabha was born in 1977, in a remote village Rampur in Goalpara district of western Assam. He started working with local tribal people to promote theatre. Within short span of time he authored and directed number of drama and got recognition as a unique theatre activist in the part of the country. He was honoured with the Bismillah Khan Yuba Puraskar from Sangeet Natak Akademi in 2009 for direction and the Aditya Bokra Birla Kala Kira Puruskar in 2010. On June 8th 2018, at the age of just 41 years he succumbed to a massive cardiac arrest. He is survived by his wife and two children. Maulee Senapati, filmmaker & Abdul Kalam Azad, an activist write pay their tributes.
In 1963, Kanhailal Heisnam had been expelled from the National School of Drama on for having taken leave without official permission. The real problem, according to scholars like Rustom Bharucha was Kanhailal’s inability to cope with the pressure of being expected to speak, write and work in English and especially in Hindi. These were languages that were unfamiliar and alien to him, just as he was alien in the space where he had arrived, albeit with much hope and optimism, as a student of theatre. Having been expelled, after a period of aimlessness, Kanhailal returned to Imphal finally in 1969 to begin his own work and established his theatre group Kalakshetra Manipur. However, unlike the far-more spectacular Ratan Thiyam, who even went on briefly to become the director of NSD in 1987-1988, Kanhailal remained for a long time on the margins of what was accepted and celebrated as ‘Manipuri ‘theatre practice at the nation’s centre.
Watch Late Heisnam Kanhailal’s classic play Pebet
“As kids we would go in a big group every night and watch jatra,” quips my maternal uncle. Then he launches into telling me about how jatras or Bengali folk theatre used to be the main attraction in Raas melas.