Need of Debate and Poor Show of Debate in Manipuri Theatre: Peep into Jagatnathki Kang Amashung Shingjang

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    By M C Arun
    One of the drama events in the State is the Short Play Competition for Creative Directors. This theatre event is annually organized by Theatre Centre, Manipur in collaboration with Manipur State Kala Akademi. This year, the 43rd Competition was held from 13-18 October 2012 at Manipur Dramatic Union, Imphal. Eleven theatre groups participated the Competition. Except two, the playwrights were of this State. The two translated works were of Vijay Tendulkar (Sakharam Binder), Marathi playwright, which was played by Royal Theatrical Club, Elangbam Leikai, Imphal and of Dr Ramkumar Verma (Lansu Ejjatsu), Hindi dramatist and poet, played by Khoriphaba Artistes Association, Nambol. The playwrights took up various social and political themes; the theatrical event was full of active engagement in the social and political issues, ranging from the discontent in the system to good governance. The best production of this year was bagged by Jagatnathki Kang Amashung Shingjang of Cosmopolitan Dramatic Union, Kongba. The play was directed by Moirangthem Nandakumar Singh. The play tried to generate or to resolve a debate over continuity and change in Meitei society.

    Crises due to cultural lag or unplanned social change are reflected in themes, stories, arguments of various Manipuri plays. Generally, the crises, depicted in Manipuri contemporary theatre, are human rights violation, cultural lag, relative poverty, value crisis, acculturation, adjustment problem of individuals to changing society, breakdown of traditional family, and a few more. In many plays, the debate around the crises is not properly dealt partly because of the author’s subjective bias or their failure of understanding the opponent camps involved in the debate. Many a time, hectic debate is forcibly closed with an emotional blackmail or a coercive act or withdrawing from the debate itself. “Phare, masigi waasi toklasi” is often heard in such debates without coming to any conclusion. Hence, the issues over which a debate is generated are not resolved properly or left open ended for the audience. This is once again seen in the play Jagatnathki Kang Amasung Shingjang, the best production in recently concluded Short Play Competition. The play was based on a story of same title written by T Brajagopal Sharma. It opened with the preparation of Kang Chingba in a Bamon family. The story writer used the Kang Chingba as the starting point of discussion on various social and cultural issues in and around religious festivals (in the play, the Kang). The generation gap was also reflected in the question: should Kang Chingba be continued this year? Conflicting arguments were put forward by the Father and the Son. Father was projected as orthodox Hindu who liked to keep the tradition. He looked for continuity in a changing society. But the writer distracted his character with his actions on daughter in law of another caste. This made the debate diluted. The Son, an employee who had no time for religious and cultural events, was a modern and pragmatic man. His view was that the Kang Chingba should be stopped because of tight schedule in daily lives (based mainly on his personal engagement). He was projected as angry young man. His view was dominated by his strong anger. To an extreme level, he used Shingjang (axe, symbolizing physical force) to destroy the Kang. The debate was further moved to the question of existence of God and necessity of God in society. Which one is earlier: man or God? Is man created by God or god by man? However, the secondary debate could not develop its own course with an emotional appeal of the Son’s friend who had been humiliated by the Father in childhood on caste affiliation. The Son revolted against the father; as a sign of his ideology of equality of all men, he married a woman of lower caste, lower than his caste. Son had been so angry to his father’s behavior against his friend in his childhood days and still he was; but his friend accepted the caste hierarchy which was result of one’s Karma in previous life. He was a good believer of the Hindu code of conduct. He even thought that if he could improve his Karma, he would attain higher caste in next life. The two opposing parties (Father and Son) could not forward convincing arguments as both of them lost their grounds on the questions of religious roles in urbanized (or modernized) society and existence of god. The only reconciling ground was the emotional appeal of Son’s friend using past events associated with Son’s own love life during the Kang festival. 

    The play used full size Kang on the stage. It showed complete oblation in front of Lord Jagatnath with lived performances of songs, religious actions. The performances of Jayadeva songs, arati, was re-enacted on the proscenium stage. This took audience time too much and unnecessarily wasted theatrical time to put forward a point. The romantic feelings between the Son and his girl friend were what the theatrical scenes wanted to show. The personal feelings of the Son were created on Kang days (Kanglen, to be precise) and hence, Kang had a meaning in the society (his friend’s argument). This argument softened heart of the Son. His rational thought was suppressed by the softened heart. Here, the two hectic debate was closed abruptly. Weeping and helplessness of the Father appealed to audience’s emotion and sentiments of their cultural object of the existing society. The already generated debate over the religious festivals in complex and urban communities, existence of god or pragmatic value of religious festivals at collective levels were suppressed; the audience were neither well informed about the evils of such festivals nor about the importance of continuity of a cultural element in a changing society.

    The Kang is always remembered of its Kshechri, especially on thamna.  The kshechri preparation and offering to the leikai members was rightfully used by the director for double purpose of the Father’s full commitment to his religious belief and the Son’s chance of showing his love to his girl friend. The double meaning of the Kshechri scene worked properly in their respective spheres. The scene was brief but so strong to create an impression on audience’s mind. But, the director needed to think of a design in which the Kshechri was served on mandap, not at walhousang. The action on the stage made the audience thought kshechri was served at walhousang; it was further suggested with the switch off of the light in the mandap. Son’s concluding sentence with an anger tone, “Next year, the Kang chingba should not continue” after a brief confrontation with two drunkard men was so impolite. It reflected the subjective bias of the writer towards radicals. For a better debate, portraying characters is needed in their best perfections.

    The play could open a debate over the continuity of past tradition in contemporary society. Though the debate could not create an everlasting impact in the melodramatic treatment, the need of strong argument in the society over each and every element in the cultural and social domains are made felt. In this light, good playwright and good theatrical treatment of social debates are really necessary; the course of debate should be free from subjective and ideological bias. The debate is the driving force of social planning and change; otherwise the society will still be under a dictatorial dictate – be it authoritarian state or public leader. Debate must be there even on whether there should be a debate on migrant evils or Pan Naga Cultural Bodies without territorial limit. Theatre is one of strong media that can generate debates. No one should ask people not to generate debate. The society without debate is just a living fossil.

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