Grant Period: Over one year
This grant supports Merajur Rahman Baruah, a filmmaker, to make a film that will document the mobile theatre or, as the locals call it, the Bhramyaman theatre in Assam. The film will record the transformation in themes and repertoire of this genre of performance, capture the experience and perspectives of its promoters, directors, actors, technicians and stagehands, and document the impact of globalisation on its practice.
Theatre (Ankiya Nat) in Assam dates back to the 16th century. Up to the 1970s, the mobile theatres would pay tribute to the earlier form by presenting short mythological skits with music before the start of their plays. Though originally based on mythology and folklore, this theatre now imparts social messages and entertains the rural masses. The proposed film will make references to these earlier plays.
Today the uniqueness of the mobile theatre in Assam is buttressed by the topicality and diversity of its repertoire––from mythological plays and original Assamese scripts to the adaptation of Hollywood blockbusters like Titanic and Godzilla. Having grown rapidly in the last 40 years, the mobile theatre industry in Assam now comprises 30 full-fledged professionally run companies, touring the entire state for nine months in the year.
One of the most exciting elements of the mobile theatre is that all the revenue is generated through ticket sales alone. Moreover, it is mandatory for mobile theatre companies to contribute 40 per cent of their income towards the development of schools, colleges and village clubs. This kind of arrangement is perhaps the only one of its kind in the world and this unique provision makes mobile theatres enduring for the reason that it becomes a social responsibility of the people to watch theatre and contribute towards the development of their village institutions.
The film will explore the various kinds of plays staged by the mobile theatre, the issues they deal with, and how the genre has transformed from presenting mythological and folk stories to contemporary themes with social and political implications. The filmmaker will travel with several theatre companies across rural Assam and construct the narrative through the experiences and perspectives of the directors, actors, technicians and stagehands.
This grant was made possible with support from Mrs Sudha Murthy.