TODAY -

'TODAY' in today's theatre
- Part 1 -

H Kanhailal *

Heisnam Kanhailal - Padmashree Recipient (Theatre)  :: July 2009
Heisnam Kanhailal - Padmashree Recipient (Theatre) :: July 2009



Theatre in today's India is facing many tangible and intangible pressures, and no one is free from these pressures. It is a time to introspect and question ourselves with such naive but fundamental questions in spite of the length of journey we have come so far. Why are we doing theatre? And, for what use? Let us begin from the very beginning. Why and for what purpose are we doing theatre?

This is a mediatized world continuously invaded by the ever changing technology. Theatre people are only a small tribe, colonized and endangered, and theatre festivals are the only survival kits which make us survive with official sponsorship carrying official versions of life, it seems, only to say theatre still survives. Now, how do we find 'Today' in today's theatre.

Where is 'Today' in today's theatre?

It is a time for self introspection. I was born and brought up with all the social, political and economic hardship I had to experience during my early stages of life and this was the same with my experience in my early stages of theatre and it still continues to be difficult to sustain. But theatre was always my refuge at times of all these hard experiences of life. It gave me courage and a never exhausting energy to go through all he hurdles.

Was it for money, fame, awards I am receiving now? No, never. There is always a war to be fought out. Sometimes, I feel very low and sometimes very high but am never satisfied and the battle continues. There are many more battles coming up to be fought out. This 'Today' gives me the challenge, provides me with the battles I have to fight out. And, sometimes I feel 'today' there are many more battle fields, so many in number that I alone will take more than my lifetime to fight.

Manipur, my home state gave me my theatre. The brutalised life ridden with so many conflicts, a life battered and deformed beyond recognition gave birth to my theatre. I thought the servitude we are living in was ours own, localised to a very small political and geographical space.

But, now, I find it to be a universal human experience, and this is confirmed when my Pebet, or my Memoirs of Africa, Karna or Draupadi are warmly and lovingly accepted by many across the country. We have AFSPA enforced on us and there is a lady, a fighter for life, fasting for more than fifteen years demanding this act to be repealed.

Because, we are dehumanised by the enforcement of this very Act. The sufferings we are going through and the struggle being made by our people to make their life worthy and meaningful and humane, and make their voice heard by the world are part of my work, my life. Theatre, nowadays, people say have become un-located, toothless, or neutralized. But, as for me 'Today' is still very much an integral part of my theatre.

I am at my best when I am firmly rooted on my today and at the worst when I try to escape to a different world. I always try not to be detached from my today. My imagination may fly to Africa, or to the tribal world as created in Dopdi as different from our world. But, you will find traces of Manipur, essence of our brutalised existence in it. The farthest I go from our context nearest I remain firmly footed in my 'today'.

But, I never attempt to make loud political noises although I am political within. And, who else is there not political in this politically charged context. In this sense, many who claim to be apolitical and hence engaged in neutral or global kind of decontextualized theatre have their own political agenda very unassumingly, and they are more dangerous.

In my theatre the movement done by the actors is the movement of the dehumanised. Voice produced by the actors is the voice coming from a people who are sienced. The king making movements on stage is the movement imitated by the downtrodden and not actually of the king. Exercises, breathing techniques, music, the body behaviour are all from my ethnic background.

India, is a very vast country, very diverse. We are diverse culturally, geographically, politically, economically, ethnically, and what not. The only unity or commonness is that there is discrimination at all levels, may be racial, class, caste, gender, ethnic, or religion. There is oppression/discrimination everywhere although many want to paint equally with one stroke of the brush and thus hide all the contradictions.

I do not take any banner in my hand and go to the battle field with a war cry. I am nobody's mouthpiece and this is what my theatre is. I engage in the battle in my own terms and this is the only possible way for me. Body of the actor is my weapon. We can do a lot with the body, and body of the actor is still a mystery which is not fully discovered and this is a great challenge for me and I feel happy in exploring the richness of this treasure which is endless.

It can go far beyond the commonplace activity of communicating meanings. Somebody has said somewhere that body is not neutral. I agree with this. Human body is class conscious, and also conscious of ethnicity, race, body colour, culture, gender, caste, and religion. It functions more or less like the brain although at a different level of consciousness.

Body of the dehumanised, oppressed, or the dispossessed is different. It is not normal in the true sense of the term but it is resurgent and vigorous and loaded with subtext. My happiest moment is when the actor's body confronts or negotiates with 'today' in a given time and space of performance.

To be continued...


* H Kanhailal wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was posted on March 11, 2016.


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