A morning with Ratan Thiyam at Chorus Prefecture, Imphal
Ratan Thiyam’s tireless effort for perfection, his fascination with ‘war and peace’ and his obsession with ‘peace in the world’, which invariably is the theme recurring in most of his plays, have made him invincible. In this modern age when almost all forms of performing arts depend very heavily on high technology to attract and satisfy the audience, he still uses it to bare minimum and focuses more on folk or traditional elements. His continuous experimentation to reveal hidden meanings in the works of celebrated playwrights has enabled him to hold the attention of theatre goers wherever he takes his productions. In doing so he has given new connotations to theatrical arts.
In ‘When We Dead Awaken’, the last play penned by Henrik Ibsen, the illustrious Norwegian playwright, who is otherwise known for his realistic plays, Thiyam sees a different Ibsen with imagery, fantasy and ecstasy far removed from the down-to-earth conventional mould.
Thiyam identifies realistic, semi-realistic and surrealistic elements in Shak-udaba Shak-naiba Manipuri adaptation of Rabindranth Tagore’s ‘The King of Dark Chambers’ (Raja). Though inconspicuous of its presence, the visual perception of darkness in most of the scenes gives a profound impact on the performance. In spite of using a large number of stage lights, more than what he normally uses for a play, Ratan is still not satisfied with his creation of ‘darkness’. He opines that it is very difficult to create ‘darkness’ ? much more difficult than to create ‘light’.
In the directional note and interpretation of his latest production, ‘Macbeth’, Manipuri adaptation of William Shakespeare’s play of the same name, Thiyam says, “Macbeth in the name of a disease spreading out with fastest speed in the contemporary world and so called advanced civilization. It is a dangerous epidemic. ….”
Though he is based at Imphal, he is spending lesser and lesser time at home. Most of his time is consumed in hopping from one part of the country to another to discharge his duties and obligations as the Chairman of National School of Drama. Even during his short stay at Imphal he has little time to spare as he is sought after by many groups to seek his valuable opinion and expert advice for a number of works that are being taken up in the state like restoration of Kangla and construction of Khongjom War 1891 Memorial. It has reached such an impasse that he himself is not sure when he would be free to sit with people and chat leisurely. In spite of his hectic schedule, he is still writing poetry, a passion he cannot easily abandon.
The best possible way to meet and talk to Ratan Thiyam is to catch up with him at the first opportunity instead of asking for an appointment. One fine Sunday morning, I got the information that he was at Chorus Prefecture and I decided to barge in uninformed.
When I reached there I found him alone, sitting on a scooped plastic chair in front of the playhouse while his group was rehearsing inside. The table in front of him was strewn with papers. He was comparing some notes and toying with the idea of organizing an International Theatre Festival at Imphal.
He did not notice me enter. He looked at me in surprise when I greeted him. He was pleased to see me after a long gap and offered me to sit on an empty chair beside him. I informed him about the purpose of my visit. He found it amusing that of all the people I had come to interview to him.
After exchanging pleasantries, I started with a question that had been lingering in my mind for a pretty long time but never got the opportunity to ask.
Question: Why have you not taken many of your plays like Kurukshetragi Peerang, (Manipuri adaptation of ‘Crying for Kurukshetra’, a play based on the Mahabharata, scripted in English by Kanthi Tripathy) and Yayati (Manipuri adaptation of Girish Karnad’s play of the same name), outside Manipur?
Ratan: We do not have our choice. Taking the whole troupe of a particular play outside Manipur is an expensive proposition, which we cannot afford. Sponsorship is required to cover the expenses. So, we take only those plays that are invited to perform outside Manipur with expenses paid.
Question : Your personality as a theatre director has overshadowed your other persona as a writer, a poet and a translator. Do you have anything to say about it?
Ratan : It is my personal ex
Question: A renowned Manipuri poet has described your poems ‘Baisali-gi Jagoisabi’ (Dancing-girl of Vaisali) as one of the best poems he had ever read. It is a narrative poem relating the story of a dancer of Vaisali. Could you tell me how you managed to describe the lifestyles of the people of a bygone era in minute details?
Ratan : The skeleton of the story was in my mind for a long time. Before writing it I visited all the places and locale described in it, met people of that area to know their lifestyles, read books to gather information of their past history. For sharpening my imagination, I personally examined whatever infrastructure was left intact at the archaeological sites and mentally went back to the period to visualise the long lost civilization. Then the people of that period started to come alive.
The charm of the poem depends on the contents. Elaboration of the lifestyle of the people of a forgotten period, which varies from one place to another within the province, is done painstakingly to contemplate on the thematic content.
Question : When I met you last at your house you were translating Tagore’s works from Bengali into Manipuri. What is the progress of the translation?
Ratan : I am trying to publish it in 2016 itself.
Question : What has happened to your earlier plan to produce the Greek mythological play ‘Prometheus Unbound’?
Ratan : I run a company. Even though there is a long list of plays I am interested in, I cannot produce all of them. Because of financial constraints we manage to produce only a limited number of plays.
Like the Greeks, India too had its classical plays, which explored the Mahabharata. Krishna, Kunti, the Pandavas, the Kouravas and many other characters, all symbolizing different aspects of human ethos, were taken from the epic.
Duryadhona carries a bad image but if we look from another angle a different Duryadhona emerges. It all depends on one’s perspective of how he or she looks at him. It is individualistic point of view.
Question : What is your relation with the audience?
Ratan : First I try to satisfy myself. Plays should be able to question the ways of the society. There should be freshness of air. Aesthetics should be at the highest level. In a way theatre is a spiritual journey for me. This is what I try to share with the audience.
Question: Do you have anything to say about the identity of Northeast theatre?
Ratan : Theatre is so vast. There are more than 200 languages spoken in India. In ‘art-form’ you are to find out the language of ex
Question : Could you add something about your production in the offering?
Ratan : There are many plays on the cards. It is really difficult to choose one. I am toying with the idea of doing something like rejuvenation of archaic language in theatre : a pure time-honoured text, folk elements, traditional story and so forth.
In the so called ‘Modern Times’ of the history of Manipur, when I read the writings in contemporary language, I cannot get the real feel of the language. Real taste of Tibeto-Burman tune and phonetics are extinct nowadays in the ‘vibration’ of modern Manipuri.
Haorang Leirang Saphabi, the legendary love story, is one where glory of the past, beauty of the story line and aesthetics of archaic language can be portrayed impressively.
While still talking he started gathering his papers to leave for an important engagement. I too got up and thanked him for sparing his valuable time to talk to me and left the prefecture thanking my stars that I could sit and interview him at long last.
Tayenjam Bijoykumar Singh