Monday, December 8, 2014

Theatre’s here, now for the patrons to arrive


Theatre may not have been a part of Sikkimese culture, but it has found takers in the state with the establishment of the National School of Drama Sikkim Training Centre in the capital in 2011. Sikkimese theatre is fast making inroads in the national arts and culture scene. That said, the road towards a vibrant theatre culture in the state will be a long one given the lack of support from the state government and the alien nature of this form of art to local audiences.

Set up in 2011, the NSD Sikkim Theatre Training Centre offers a one-year residential certificate course in Dramatic Arts. Till now the centre has produced 60 theatre artists, with 22 more students in its current batch which has six from Sikkim. The centre focuses on students from the North East region although it is open to those from other states as well.
Camp Director Bipin Kumar is of the opinion that despite its lack of history in the state, theatre has a bright future here.
“Actors from Sikkim are very talented and their performances outside the state have been receiving a lot of applause and appreciation. Sikkimese theatre has managed to carve out an identity of its own in the theatre circuit around the country. People now recognize and appreciate Sikkimese theatre,” he says.  
Sikkimese theatre is starting to develop its own style and form and this Mr Kumar says is a great step ahead as audiences outside the state have started to recognize it. “There is an increasing demand for performances by students of the Sikkim centre and they have even been chosen to perform the opening act at the upcoming Nandikar Festival in Kolkata. Performing the opening show at such a reputed festival is an achievement in itself,” he highlights.
Nandikar National Theatre Festival began in 1984, and has since made its niche in the theatre calendar of the country. Repertory companies from several parts of the country and abroad add to the festival’s attraction. In its history of 27 uninterrupted editions since 1984, practically the entire who’s who of Indian Theatre has been part of the festival.
The first batch of Sikkimese students is now part of the Repertory Company of the Sikkim NSD Centre. The objective of the Repertory Company is to provide a platform to the actors who have passed out of the school in their academic interest and to perform plays professionally. The company has staged three plays till now - Hami Ta Afai Aap [directed by Bipin Kumar], Kaalo Sunakhari [directed by Abhilash Pillai] and Niyam Ta Yahi Cha [directed by Nillu Kamaluddin].
They plan to stage their fourth play by the beginning of 2015 which is based on Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet. The romantic tragedy will be set in Sikkim with the issue of influx and migration also playing along with the central theme of romance.
The Repertory Company was busy preparing for this play at the studio in the NSD Sikkim Centre located at the Nepali Sahitya Parishad Bhawan, Development Area when NOW! caught up with them. Speaking about their experiences in this field the actors shared that most of their families had problems with this line of work initially.
“My parents were against it since no one in my family had ever had any connection with any creative arts field. They told me to study instead and find a regular job. They thought there was no money in this line and would not be good for me. They have now accepted what I do and support me,” says Prem Kumar Pradhan who hails from Namchi and is a member of the Repertory Company.
Camp Director, Mr Kumar also shares that society is yet to open up and still believes that a government job is the best one can do even though the scene is totally different in other parts of the country, especially in the metros.
While the performing arts have gained respect in other parts of the country, there is still some reluctance in Sikkim to recognize the art. “Naachne gaune khalkey” is a tag that has more negative connotations than positive ones. More so for women who bravely venture into this unconventional field.
“My mother used to sing in small functions in our neighbourhood and people did not have nice things to say about that. So when I said I wanted to do theatre, my father was dead against it. He said that for a woman it was dangerous to choose this line and tour across the country to perform. But that has changed and now he supports me,” says theatre artist Ranjana Mangar, also from Namchi.
All the artists ask from the Sikkimese audience is support by coming and watching the plays they stage. “Artists from outside get huge audiences but it is not the same for our productions. We hope more people show interest and turn up for our performances too,” expressed all the artists.
Despite many hurdles the artists have stuck to their guns and now travel all over the country garnering applause and support. The Repertory Company is now coming into its own and has a director, costume designer, writer, prop designer, make-up artist etc all hailing from the state. There is also Drishyam, a theatre group which seeks to provide a platform for NSD Sikkim pass outs as well as others interested in this field to perform. The group’s first performance was the play ‘Pagla Ghoda’.
“We also hope to provide a platform for income generation for theatre artists and enthusiasts”, says Kavita Pradhan who is Coordinator NSD Sikkim as well as for Drishyam.
Among the obstacles that the NSD Sikkim centre faces, Mr Kumar highlights the need for space especially an auditorium. The original plan was that they would get access to Manan Bhawan for rehearsals and staging plays but after the earthquake of 2011 the Secretariat had to be housed at Manan Bhawan. Since then, NSD Sikkim has had to make do with temporary arrangements. He also says that the State Culture Department has not been very forthcoming in its support to the centre.
“They have not shown any interest in helping us and supporting the Sikkim Centre. Initially they gave us assurances about the auditorium issue but now that has also stopped”.  There is no dearth of funds, he states but the lack of proper space for the centre is hindering many of its activities and plans.
“We have been losing out on opportunities to host international theatre festivals because of the lack of space. Last year and this year too we were offered this opportunity but due to the lack of proper venue the festival is now being hosted by another north eastern state. Such an event would have been great for Sikkim tourism too,” says Mr Kumar.
Most plays staged by the centre so far have been adaptations of works by writers from outside the state. On the lack of local original writing, the Director shares that although there are many talented writers in Sikkim there are no playwrights. “All the plays we have staged till now we have tried to incorporate Sikkimese culture and adapt it to the local setting. However, it is true that there is no original work out here in terms of theatre. When we approach local writers to write plays for us they hesitate because they are not comfortable with the form and structure of plays.”
At the moment, artists are getting by on grants from the centre but for the future, it is very important for the film industry in Sikkim to develop for theatre and theatre artists to survive.

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