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Kishore Talukdar
Date of Publish: 2016-02-09

Drama of the dwarves- When the short stand tall


They have endured the height of humiliation. It is now time for the likes of James Daimary and Tulika Das to stand taller than the stature they have attained with Dapon.

Meaning ‘mirror’ in Assamese, Dapon is a theatre group helmed by ace actor-director Pabitra Rabha. Among theatre lovers in India and beyond, it is known more as the troupe of the ‘short people’ or dwarves.

James, 47, Tulika, 19, Tarasona Mohilary, 35, Timthias Tirki, 27, Prabhakar Das, 47, Ranju Baishya, 23, and other dwarves have usually played themselves. They have moved audiences with their stories and the treatment ‘normal’ people have subjected them to.

Today, they are honing their skills to scale new heights by portraying Napoleon, Old Major, Snowball, Squealer, Boxer, Mollie and the other creatures of George Orwell’s masterpiece Animal Farm.

“Orwell’s novel is a political allegory that has tremendous significance in the present political scenario of Assam. It was a natural choice for stage performance by the dwarves and other members of our group,” Rabha, a National School of Drama product, says.

The play will be presented in different languages of Northeast. Dapon has formed a theatre group in Tura, Meghalaya, for staging the play in Garo.

Rabha had won the Real Hero award for giving the dwarves a theatrical opportunity to live life with dignity. He wants the society to accept them as normal human beings capable of thinking, acting and performing, perhaps with more intensity.

Six of them have gone beyond tutored acting to conceptualise, write and direct six plays. “They have the attributes of becoming dramatis personae, and my job is to make the best use of their talents,” Rabha says, insisting there’s more to theatre than providing entertainment.

Rabha began spotting and grooming dwarves for his ‘lifetime’ drama project more than a decade ago. He has trained 30 of them under Theater and Vocational Training for Dwarf, handpicking 23 for theatrical performances.

“We regard ourselves as professional actors and what matters most to us is giving our best on stage,” Dilip Kakoti, a diminutive member of the group says.

Each member of Dapon gets Rs 500 to Rs 1,000 as remuneration for performance after every show. The group has so far performed more than 50 plays, staging 20 shows across Assam in 2012 alone. Among the popular plays is the 80-minute What to Say, based on the lives of the dwarves, their struggle, dream and expectations.

Rabha had set up his Dapon Cultural Complex on a two-acre land at Tangla in north-central Assam’s Udalguri district. He began a workshop with dwarves alongside his mission of preserving the cultural heritage and promoting theatre. “I have succeeded to some extent in narrowing the gap between the dwarves and those that are regarded as normal humans. I want to bridge the gap once and for all,” he says.

The dwarves call the complex their home. But Rabha has plans to set up an all-inclusive Amar Gaon for them. The funds for the dream project are being generated through cultivation of paddy, vegetables and mustard.

Members of Rabha’s group – there are 60 others apart from the dwarves, and some of them are college students – has been into multiple cropping in a 45-acre plot of land. “My objective is also to motivate farmers to shift from mono cropping to growing multiple crops instead of leaving their land unused after harvesting paddy,” Rabha says.

Dapon is into teaching children theatre skills too. It has a wing named Khil-Khilai to help children develop their ability to perform.

Having worked as the technical in-charge of NSD’s International Theatre Festival, Rabha played the title role of Shakespeare’s tragedy King Lear. He has also acted in the physical theatre festival in Tokyo, Japan.

Recognition for his work with dwarves came in 2012 and CNN-IBN and Reliance Foundation gave him the Real Hero award. “It helped silence those who used to mock me as the owner of dwarves and underestimate them,” Rabha says.

Bollywood legend Amitabh Bachchan also lauded Rabha’s group when the two met at a reality show in Mumbai.

Kishore Talukdar

( Kishore Talukdar is an independent journalist based in Guwahati. His areas of interest include Development journalism and Environment journalism. He can be contacted at tdrkishore@gmail.com )


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