Theatre of The Earth

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The four day International Theatre Exposition which was recently held in Imphal, organised by Kalakshetra in collaboration with Manipur University and some of the theatre groups based in the state was an event in itself. It has also been a rare opportunity to witness the exposition from an intimate distance. Kalakshetra Manipur (KKM), the theatre group needs no introduction. Founded in the year 1969, the theatre group has come a long way. The founder director Oja Heisnam Kanhailal and his partner, both in life and art: one and only, Ema Savitri, are happy over the success of the event. Leading the theatre group, both of them have been envisaging to organise an event of such import in the soil of Manipur. KKM have given performances not only in India but in different countries far and wide. Both Oja and Ema have been invited to give talks and demonstration in various workshops. Scholars and theatre practitioners from across the globe have come and studied the working process of KKM in their individual capacity. But a gathering like the recent exposition has not taken place earlier. The exposition was an aim to explore the working process of theatre-making practised by KKM. Oja Kanhailal has been doing both intensive researches on native theatre within the contours of socio-political landscape of Manipur. He has been able to consolidate his years’ long research into a methodology of acting through the process of ‘naturalization of the actor’s body’, to use Oja’s word,  re-building the body through various stages of rigorous training, identifying with natural life flow in the body. According to Oja, the working process of KKM is to make aware of how to create a conscious process of physical and visceral form of expression while making organic impact of the body, the only resource of the actor. One can undeniably witness the amalgamation of principles of objective scientific research from the West with the tradition of rigorous disciplining in the East. Seeing the intensive regime of exercises that was shown by the artist of KKM, delegates of the exposition observed that no wonder; it is through the kind of body training that an unique kind of theatre practice can be developed which is firmly grounded in the native soil and yet speaking an universal language. Indeed, the exposition was given the name: Theatre of The Earth. Three plays including ‘Memoirs of Africa’, ‘Pebet’ and ‘Draupadi’ were shown during the exposition. ‘Draupadi’ was shown to the public after a gap of fourteen years. The play was not received well at the time of its release in Imphal.  Women’s groups and a particular section of women writers dubbed it as culturally insensitive and alleged that the play disregards the dignity of women. This has to do with the climax scene of the play in which the protagonist played by Ema Sabitri disrobes herself to confront the army officer. During the interactive session with the delegates of the exposition, Ema narrated how she took the decision to perform the act. It was her decision and was not influence by anyone, not even her director husband. But an incident inspired her. The incident was of a rape victim who came out in the open to narrate publicly the gruesome story of how she was raped by security forces in front of her husband and her father in law. Ema Sabitri’s performance is unparalleled not only in ‘Draupadi’ but also in all the plays of KKM. Prof Richard Gough, of University of Wales who was also a delegate at the exposition had shared that in Japan, Sabitri would have been declared as a ‘living National Treasure’. We will cherish his words.

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