TODAY -

Shumang Lila - Preserving the best traditional media in Manipur

S Neken Singh *

In olden days, elders used to enlighten the children of the family with the folk-tales almost on regular basis. One beautiful aspect of it is the intellect and knowledge imbibed in the children of the yore. This useful oral medium served as a means to communicate the thoughts and perception of the elders to the younger generation directly.

Now, this convention is hardly seen in the society. Today's children have less time to devote to such things, as they have to do a list of home tasks, a series of private tuitions and video games. Generation gap becomes wider day-by-day in modern society. When people forget the past, its future is dim.

Not all the traditions of olden times are good to follow, but there are certain values that are essential in maintaining a social identity of the people. Today, we witness the widening generation gap where youths do not pay attention to the words of the elders.

At the same time, young people are negatively influenced by the alien cultural invasion through various new media like satellite channels, bollywood commercial films, advertisements portraying sex for sales, internet blitzkrieg and mobile telephony. These media onslaught on the immature tender minds create delinquent behaviour, easy lifestyles, careless habits, blind aping of the western costumes and dresses, neglect of the past and consequent identity crisis degrading the moral values in society.

In such emergent crises, Shumang Lila as a unique traditional media may be the best tool to effectively counter the negative influences of the new media on the youths of Manipur.

Most effective medium

Native people prefer traditional media to other modern channels mainly due to its intelligibility and familiarity of language, gestures, culture and tradition. Messages conveyed by such media are always credible and acceptable to locals. There is 'effective reach' as there is high degree of attentiveness among the audience.

Quick feedbacks may be collected as senders (actors) and receivers (audience) of the messages are face to face during the performance. Shumang Lila as a traditional media reflects the socio-cultural, religious, moral and emotional needs of the local people. Various government and non-government agencies are judiciously employing Shumang Lila as effective message carriers to the people.

Besides entertaining people and making them forget their day-to-day tensions and worries, Shumang Lila carries a heavy responsibility to educate people on various issues both local and international. It has three important characteristic motives - entertaining, educative and reformative.

Popularity of this art form in Manipur needs no revision at all. The Iboyaima Shumang Lila Sanglen located at Imphal is quite insufficient to accommodate the increasing size of the audience as witnessed in the just concluded Ningtham Kummei of the All Manipur Shumang Lila Council.

Even the Bheigyachandra Open Air theatre was overcrowded with spectators in the premiere show of 'Opium War' a few days back. The growing quantum of viewers year by year stands testimony to the fact that Shumang Lila outclasses all other traditional media in the state in terms of popularity, reach and accessibility.

Present day Shumang Lila dwells on varied themes like identity crises and its preservation, police-public relations, insurgency and its ramification, corruption and nepotism, social chaos and ailments. The wider the gap between 'the ideal' and 'the real', the more is 'the Chaos' in the society.

Shumang Lila attempts to portray the ideal character in the social set-up. This has facilitated the viewers to compare between what is ideal and what is real. Moreover, the social actors can surely imitate the ideal character shown on the stage. As for instance, the ideal manner of police and the reality of police are truly distant in Manipur.

In majority of Shumang Lilas, police is portrayed as ill-mannered and wild to public. However, this year's plays apparently bring out a better calm and humane police.

Preserving the tradition

There is no dearth of scholars, intellectuals, directors, playwrights and artistes who are constantly working hard to preserve this beautiful art form and maintaining its popular character for an immortal service to the society. As an innocent member of the audience, I personally feel to put certain suggestions for better preservation of its unique character among its counterparts.

Plato in ancient times opined in his 'The Republic' that 'music and drama as art forms can be either used or misused'. The costumes of some of the female role artistes need to be checked in time so as to preserve the unique character of Shumang Lila as a media of all age-groups and all walks of life.

It is different from other art forms because all members of a family from the youngest to the eldest are its audience. The mature audience feels uncomfortable in the costumes of some of the female-roles. Moreover, there is tendency that young girls may imitate these dresses and styles. So, makers of Shumang Lila need to work for inculcating decent lifestyles and costumes in the minds of young viewers.

Secondly, besides the routine annual shows in Imphal, Shumang Lila festivals may also be displayed at other district headquarters at least in the valley districts for a few days a year so as to gain wider popularity in the nook and corner of the state.

Thirdly, the pre-show interaction/discussion before the actual stage performance of every Shumang Lila in the recent 'Ningthm Kummei' was really an intellectual exercise for development of this art form. However, if we arrange the interaction after the performance, may be next day of the play, it will be more effective.

Post-show interaction is preferable to pre-show interaction. Moreover, the participating learned resource persons may also be requested to witness the plays in order to make the discussion more enlivened and concrete.

Lastly, if there is any Shumang Lila of the tribal dialects in existence, they may be invited to exhibit in Shumang Lila festivals. There were plays in Tangkhul, Kabui, Thadou, Paite and Hmar dialects created some years back for the purpose of spreading HIV/AIDS awareness in the nook and corner of the state.

The state Shumang Lila Council in consultation with the State Kala Academy may take the responsibility to promote these tribal dialect plays in the larger interests of preserving this traditional media.


* S Neken Singh wrote this article for Hueiyen Lanpao (English Edition). This was webcasted on January 06th , 2010.

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