Assam's travelling theatre coming to Delhi

The National School of Drama (NSD) has invited the mobile theatre group Kohinoor to stage six shows in New Delhi in April. "Mobile theatre is a movement in Assam and for decades we have been entertaining people across the state. It would be a major boost for us to showcase our talents and give a national platform to mobile theatres courtesy NSD," Ratan Lahkar, proprietor of Kohinoor theatre, told reporters. Despite jazzed up cinema complexes and satellite television, mobile theatres are a rave in Assam.

"It is indeed a matter of great pride to find mobile theatres being able to captivate so many people despite modern cinemas and a variety of television channels available to the audience," said Arun Sharma, a noted Assamese playwright and Sahitya Akademi award winner. With regional cinema in the doldrums, actors, musicians, directors and technicians found an alternative livelihood in the highly popular mobile theatres. "It would have been a silent death for hundreds of people involved in the Assamese film industry but for the mobile theatres," said film critic Sibanu Baruah.

"Actors, musicians, directors and technicians are today earning more from mobile theatres than they did from films," he added. The theatre groups, which belong to a tradition stretching back more than four centuries, have multiplied to over 30. Thousands of people prefer to sit in grassy fields to watch the plays with themes ranging from contemporary events to mythologies, Greek tragedies, Shakespearean plays and Indian classics.

The modern commercial form, which emerged in the late 1960s, has clung to its community roots with troupes often performing 10-minute sketches before the main show on subjects like AIDS and drug abuse. The troupes themselves are mini communities, each comprising more than 100 actors, technicians, cooks and general helpers, who travel together on the road for eight straight months beginning August and perform in villages and cities across the state.

"An average of 800 to 1,000 people watch a show and that in itself is an indication of the popularity of the mobile theatres," said Biswa Saikia, owner of one of the theatre groups. Some productions were such hits that dozens of foreign television crews and journalists trailed the travelling theatre groups through slush and mud in the interiors of Assam. The staging of plays like "Lady Diana", "Titanic" and the re-creation of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York were instant hits.

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