Drama of a different kind for a record

Drama of a different kind  for a record

Spacious auditorium at Vani Vihar, the campus of Utkal University, Odisha’s premier government-run educational institution Bhubaneswar, was jam-packed to watch a play, which was staged on the occasion of World Theatre’s Day a few days back.

What’s new, one may ask. A good play usually attracts a large gathering. But this play was not an ordinary one. It was one of the 50 plays that was being staged at 50 different locations in the state on a single day to create a milestone. And, of course, the aim was to enter into the Guinness Book of World Records. “It was certainly a memorable evening. The play was most enjoyable. Moreover, it was a great feeling that you are part of a unique effort,” said Sukadev Meher, an engineer who was present at the university auditorium that evening to watch the play, “Kishan Kanheiya”.

The brain behind the record-creating effort was Mihir Meher, a dramatist and director of Bhubaneswar-based International Theatre, a troupe that was set up in 1975 by young theatre activists and drama students and some of them were from the National School of Drama.

“The idea came to me two years ago when we decided do something  unique to popularise Odia theatre not only within the state but also at the national and international level. And we thought the Guinness Book of World Records would be an ideal platform to see it through,” said 63-year-old Meher, one of the pioneers in popularising theatre activities in the Odisha capital.

Though the International Theatre group has branches in all the 30 districts, Meher and his associates decided to rope in other drama groups active in different areas to be a part of the unique effort. However, it was not that easy as many groups and individuals they got in touch were apprehensive about the success of such an attempt.

The veteran dramatist and his colleagues nevertheless managed to convince majority of them and their hard labour and determination finally bore fruit when, as per their plan, all the 50 plays were successfully staged on the World Theatre Day.

The plays were staged in 25 out of 30 districts. Some of the districts had more than one. As many as 10 plays were staged in western Odisha Bargarh district. “The experience was overwhelming. The response to the effort from the common people was tremendous. We enjoyed it thoroughly,” said Amrut Kumar Barik, a school teacher and a theatre activist who was part of the effort in western Odisha town of Atabira. 

Nearly 500 theatre artists and activists from different districts had taken part to make this unique effort a success. As per the instruction of the record book authorities to the International Theatre group, all plays were to be well documented.

So, some plays were videographed while still photos were taken at a few places. Other methods like presence of eminent personalities of the area were also adopted at some locations. “We had to ensure some evidence that the plays had been successfully staged,” Meher, a product of Bhubaneswar-based government-run drama and music college, Odisha Sangeeta Mahavidylaya, maintained.

Staging plays, however, had its own share of problems in some places, mainly lack of required infrastructure. Many small towns in Odisha do not have a proper auditorium to stage plays.

Besides, as it was the World Theatre Day, many halls and auditoriums had already been booked by theatre groups--who were not part of this record creating initiative-- to stage their plays to commemorate the special day.

“Because of shortage of auditoriums, we had to stage our plays in local schools and colleges in some places. In one western Odisha town, we staged a play on the spacious rooftop of the house of a theatre enthusiast,” Meher, who is also the great-grandson of late Gangadhar Meher, a famous and eminent Odia poet and writer, said.

The organisers are currently in the process of preparing a souvenir detailing out the entire process of their great achievement. The document along with the evidences will be sent to Guinness Book for their its approval.

The success of the unique initiative has prompted Meher and his associates to go one step further and make an attempt to stage 100 plays at 100 different locations within the state on a single day. “We are contemplating to go for it, again on the World Theatre Day next year. We have already begun preparations for that,” said the artist. The World Theatre Day was chosen to achieve the last feat for a better impact.

However, Meher is not happy on one count as  their record-creating effort did not receive  help from the state government despite the initiative aiming at popularising the Odia theatre and drama.

“We had approached the state government for assistance but the authorities flatly refused to extend any helping hand. However, it failed to dampen our spirit and we went ahead with our effort,” he said with a smile in his face.  

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