Journey from Bhaonas to Mobile theatres: A tale of Assam’s theatrical richness!

Article by: Puja Mahanta and Dipakshi Goswami, The North-Eastern Chronicle

Visuals by: Aslam Siddique Abhiskar Banikya

Art and society are in a constant condition of reciprocal reliance, almost like a chain relationship.

Theatre is a one-of-a-kind human-created art form. The term “theatre” refers to a type of human expression and creative activity that takes place in front of an audience.

The social and political environment, as well as individual, technological, and aesthetic influences, are the primary determinants of this art form.

theatre

The history of Assamese theatre goes many centuries back.

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Contribution of Srimanta Sankardev in Assamese drama and theatre

Srimanta Sankaradev who is the great Vaishnavite saint of Assam, was the pioneer of Assamese drama and theatre.

He introduced innovative dramatic practises that encompassed the most natural expressions in the sphere of drama.

In the fifteenth century, when Sankaradev was only nineteen years old when he organised a dramatic performance known as Cihna Yatra, which literally stands for ‘Pageant on Painted Scenes’.

Cihna Yatra may be regarded as the ‘preamble’ to the first regular Assamese theatre, stage and music.

It was the first work of its kind in the entire range of Modern Indo-Aryan languages. Assamese theatre has a long and illustrious history.

One type, known as Ankiya Nat or Bhaona, was performed in community halls known as nam-ghar and was composed by Vaishnava reformers like Sankaradeva and Madhavadeva.

Bhaoriya, Dhuliya, and Oja-Pali are some of the other traditional performatory styles.

Modern theatre in Assam and Jyotiprasad Agarwala

Assam’s modern theatre is credited to Jyotiprasad Agarwala.

Sonit Kuwari, a romance play in which the characters Usha and Anirudha are still popular in Assam, was written by him. Joymoti, a play by Padmanath Gohai Baruah, has a historical significance in Assamese theatre.

The storey of Joymati is based on a play by famed Assamese writer Sahityayatri Lakshiminath Bezbaruah, and it depicts the heroic struggle of a historical figure, a noblewoman from the royal Ahom dynasty, in 1644-45.

To save her country and spouse from a puppet ruler controlled by a corrupt minister, the woman makes a great sacrifice.

In 1906, the Ban Theatre, Assamese’s first modern theatre hall, was established.

Many of Rupkunwar Jyotiprasad Agarwala’s and Natasurya Phani Sarma’s notable modern Assamese tragedies were first performed here. The custom continues to this day.

In 1930, Natyacharya Brajanath Sarma founded the Kohinoor Opera, Assam’s first mobile theatre ensemble.

From Dhubri to Sadiya, the Kohinoor Opera staged dramas that drew thousands of people.

Natyacharya Brajanath Sarma, popularly known as Natyacharjya (a guru of dramatics), was born in the village Sila in the Bajali area of modern-day Barpeta district of Assam in 1930 and founded the Kohinoor Opera.

From Dhubri to Sadiya, the Kohinoor Opera staged dramas that drew thousands of people.

On October 2, 1963, in Pathsala, the first Mobile Theatre play was performed.

Adaptations of famous Assamese novels, Greek classics, and Hollywood blockbusters are among the plays offered by the troupes.

Mr. Sebabrata Barua wrote the drama Pabitra Paapi, which was based on the Greek tragedy Edipus the King by Sophocles. Mr. Baharul Islam, a prominent NSD graduate actor-director of Assamese theatre and cinema, directed it.

In 1996-97, this theatre staged Mr. Manuram Gogoi’s famous novel, Sagoroloi Bahu Dur, which had already been adapted into an award-winning film by Assamese filmmaker Mr. Jahnu Barua.

Mr. Mahendra Barthakur wrote the script for the mobile stage version, which was directed by Mr. Atul Bordoloi.

Then, in its silver jubilee year of 2000-01, Kohinoor adapted two Assamese literary works: one, writer Mr. Phanindra Kumar Dev Choudhury’s popular novel Anuradhar Desh, which was scripted and directed by Mr. Hemanta Dutta, and the other, writer Mr.Ranjeet Sarma’s storey Priya Shatru, which was scripted by Mr. Mahendra Bartha.

Mr. Pankajyoti Bhuyan authored and directed Mr. Hemanta Dutta’s adaptation of Dr. Pranabjyoti Deka’s novel Tejpiya Gosani for Kohinoor in 2001-02.

In 2002-03, Mr. Mahendra Barthakur and Mr. Hemanta Dutta presented Abelir Rang, an adaptation of renowned novelist Mr. Thomas Hardy, which was penned by Mr. Mahendra Barthakur and directed by Mr. Hemanta Dutta.

In the society, this play had caused quite a sensation.

In 2003-04, they not only performed Mr. Kanchan Barua’s popular novel Ashanta Prahar, which was penned by Mr. Mahendra Barthakur and directed by Mr. Hemanta Dutta and Mr. Suren Mahanta, but they also presented two dance-dramas based on notable literary masterpieces by acclaimed Assamese litterateurs.

In Assam, there are around 30 mobile theatrical groups, the most of which are situated in Pathsala.

Modern theatre in Assam theatre The North-Eastern Chronicle

Impact of Covid-19 on Assamese theatres

COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on Assam’s nomadic theatrical companies, forcing numerous artists to seek alternative sources of income.

Bhramyoman groups, which are an important part of the state’s culture, are on the verge of extinction.

Assamese cinema stars also fill the prime roles in these plays, ensuring a high level of glamour.

It so validates the importance of mobile theatre in the state’s media and entertainment industries. Assamese culture now has a distinct identity.

Brajanath Sarma’s Kohinoor Opera, a revolutionary drama worker’s production, foreshadowed Assamese mobile theatre in the 1960s.

He was the first commercial mobile stage in Assam. In Assam’s mobile theatre movement, Achyut Lahkar added numerous new elements.

Considering Assam’s theatrical richness, cultural landscape of Assam is certainly not restricted to Bihu and Sattryia, but reaches far beyond.

Mobile theatre has served two purposes: one is to promote drama as an art form, and the other is to promote drama as a product.

A combination of art and commerce, mobile theatre is a hybrid of the two.

It has also made significant contributions to Assamese people’s socio-economic and educational advancement.

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