The Corona pandemic puts the mobile theaters in Assam in trouble as they couldn’t finish the session properly due to the national lockdown. They are also apprehensive of audience responses in their shows till the corona issue is completely resolved.
- NJ Thakuria
Novel corona virus is killing Assam’s unique theater experiences and perhaps nobody can help it flourish again in the land of 15th century Vaishnavite saint Srimanta Sankardev, who preached for a caste-less and class-less society. Known as Bhramyaman (means mobile) Theater, the groups moves around the State for presenting attractive plays with all of their artistes, artisans and other workers.
Their theater session starts by August and it continues till Bohag (Rongali) Bihu in the middle of April every year. After three months gap, the theater groups start preparation by June. As the China originated deadly virus started smashing almost all the countries on the planet resulting in affecting over a million people and huge casualties, Bharat declared a nationwide lockdown.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi initially declared the lockdown till 14 April and now it has been extended till 3 May so that the chain of infection of Covid-19 could be broken in the large country. By now the pandemic has infected over 13,500 Indians where more than 450 have already died. Northeast reports over 40 infections with two casualties. The life-threatening virus puts the mobile theater in troubles as they couldn’t finish the session properly due to the national shutdown.
Moreover, they are worried if they could start their new session on time. They are also apprehensive of audience responses in their shows till the corona issues are properly resolved. Assam today support over 30 active theatre groups where each group comprises around 150 performers with other workers. A theatre group performs two evening shows a day in the session. They need to carry their pandals, multi-stages, lighting and sound equipments along with other necessities to every location where they perform.
Most of the plays of these theatres are based on Assamese literature and folk tales. But sometimes mythological themes are also adopted by the playwrights. Many times, they have adopted modern events on the stages including the lives of Lady Diana, Benojir Bhutto, Osama bin Laden along with dramatic versions of Titanic, Jurassic Park, Othello, Hamlet, Anaconda, Kargil War, etc.
All popular theater groups like Kohinoor Theater, Awahan Theater, Sankardev Theater, Hengul Theater, Bhagyadebi Theater, Saraighat Theater, Bordoichila Theater, Chiranjib Theater, etc worship Achyut Lahkar as the founder of the movement. Lahkar from Pathshala town in lower Assam launched Nataraj Theatre in 1963 and developed the traditional way of presently a play in Assamese language. He also used modern systems of light and sound to enrich the productions. The mobile theatre industry does a business of around Rs 10 crores annually where celebrated artistes earn handsome money as remunerations.
Many glamorous Assamese film actors have also joined the theater groups as the State’s film business faces shrinkages inthe last few decades. Soon the proprietors of theater groups start advertising the engagement of popular film personalities prior to the session.
“Mobile theater groups support thousands of Assamese families with a dignified livelihood. They deserve necessary supports from the government in Dispur,” said Golak Pathak, a theater lover of Pathshala. He also added that if the situation does not improve in the next few weeks, the groups would not be able to start their preparations. Moreover, if the audiences don’t get confidences to enjoy the plays, the entire movement might face an extinction in the coming years.