BHARAT RANG MAHOTSAV Assamese play “Saba Kota Manuh” dealt with unrequited love in the valleys of Arunachal Pradesh against a backdrop of the Tibetan crisis

Colourful Tibetan flags hang overhead as an ageing Aaothampa sees his life in a series of flashbacks. The light plays around the figure of his mother, vehemently opposing her husband’s job as a thampa (cutter of dead bodies). Through the filter of memory, his mother’s tired face reflects her fear for her son following in his father’s footsteps. Interspersed with this are visions of his lover Rizomba, assumed to be dead in the war. All this while, his bitter dejected wife Guichengmu (Dharitri Kalita) lies asleep next to him, unable to comprehend her husband’s fascination with a dead woman.

Based on the Assamese novel Saba Kota Manuh by Yeshe Dorjee Thongchi, the play, by the same name, captures the different rites and rituals associated with the Monpa tribe of Arunachal Pradesh, with the climax resting on its practice of cutting dead bodies into 108 pieces and offering it to the river.

Staged by BA (A Creative Breeze) and directed by eminent Assamese theatre worker and actorPakija Begum, who also essayed the role of Anesung Noraljem, the play deals with multiple themes of love, loss, the Indo-China war and how it all play a role to transform a young Jungseng (Montu Gogoi) into the village thampa, called by one and all as Aaothampa (Anup Hazarika).

Having inaugurated the 2011 Bharat Rang Mahotsav with Charan Das Chor, BA is not unacquainted with performing Assamese plays for a North Indian audience, claims Pakija. “The platform that the Mahtosav provides is huge. To travel from Guwahati to the Capital for a play that is typically based in north-eastern customs and to be widely accepted is what matters,” says Pakija, content with the audience response that the play garnered. Being a part of the Mahotsav since 2007, barring 2012, Pakija is happy with the space that is provided to regional plays, especially after 2010 when screens flashing subtitles began to be added to regional plays.

Audience seemed pleased with the portrayal of the characters except for a few mild flaws. “The direction had a distinct taste of Pakija Begum. The plot of the novel was nicely incorporated. Music was good but they could have played a little more with the lighting,” says Bidisha Bezbaruah, a student and Assamese TV anchor. Photographer Manash Sarma liked the creatively decorated set and art direction, “especially the use of authentic props, except for a few scenes which I felt was unnecessary”.

The one hour-58 minutes-long play managed to keep the audience interested with its smooth portrayal of tribal customs, laced with the quirky and minute intricacies of a small section of the Monpa tribe.

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