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All in the name This year's Sangeet Natak Akademi awardee Moinul Haque at Full Circle Café, Khan Market
All in the name This year's Sangeet Natak Akademi awardee Moinul Haque at Full Circle Café, Khan Market

Acclaimed mime artiste Moinul Haque says performing is like preparing an interesting dish

“Very few people recognise me without the trademark white mask of a mime artiste,” points out Moinul Haque. Mass recognition back home in Assam tagged to his mime mask, he also points out, is a compliment way above being identified without one. In fact, Haque has lived with it for over two decades now. But today, at the Full Circle Café in New Delhi's plush Khan Market, Haque is an unrecognisable face to the lunchtime crowd. Even with his mask on, all he would have raised were a few curious eyebrows, like he later does while trying to explain some scenes from his performances with vigorous hand and eye movements.

Completely at home with the web of anonymity around him, an all-smiles Haque — chosen for the Sangeet Natak Akademi award this year — takes a corner seat, saying in jest, “I will get a full view from here.” You soon realise why he wants it. An extremely observant person, Haque, at the end of each day, recalls what he sees the whole day. “It has become a habit now. It not only exercises my mind but helps me to pick expressions for my performances. I have always been acting without a script. God has given all of us a mind camera. I store my images in it,” he explains.

All ready to try out the café's Continental fare, he, however, doesn't show any interest in the menu card, stating, “I am basically a dal-chawal person. What I mean is, I eat only because you need to eat. So I allow you to choose a dish for me.”

We soon settle for Lazy Lunch Pasta and a fresh watermelon juice to wash it down. The blood-red juice arrives at the table in a jiffy. Sipping it, Haque picks up the thread of the conversation. “Show my photo to any person in Assam (read North East) and it is likely that he would not recognise me. But the moment you show my face with the mask on, he will immediately say, Moinul! The point I want to make here is that there is hundred per cent recall value to what I do and that makes me feel that I have achieved something.” To someone who doesn't know Haque, it might sound a little pompous, but he has been solely responsible for making mime a popular art in the North East today. Humble as ever, Guwahati-based Haque — in Delhi to perform and direct shows as part of a festival of Assam's famous mobile theatre group Kahinoor held at the IGNCA — doesn't even mention how his mime academy is the single such institution in the entire region. Students from not just the NE but from other parts of the country regularly come there to take lessons from him in mime. On asking, he says, “We are doing a bit of expansion of the academy right now, we will take a new batch of 25 students for a year-long course as soon as it is ready. Like always, we will also hold workshops.”

Layered with cheese

Taking an appreciative bite of the sumptuous pasta topped with a thick layer of cheese garnished with a generous sprinkling of parsley, the artiste walks down memory lane. “I came from a poor family from Lower Assam. With nine siblings around, I never got any special treatment as a child and wore only hand-me-downs and received no gifts during festivals.” The mood gets sombre, but trust Haque's right timing to flash a toothy grin, saying, “You know when I first performed, people didn't know what I was doing. Mime was not a known word then. Many called me a monkey on stage.” Dedication to his art brought him success, he feels, adding, “I used to practise every waking moment then. Though I don't cook, I always felt that a performance is like cooking an interesting dish. With experience and interest, a cook becomes a great cook.”

Winding up his lunch, Haque parts company with us expressing a desire to bring as many of his stage-acts as possible to a wider audience. “Mime doesn't belong to any particular region, simply because it doesn't use words of a particular language. Silent speech is a universal language, isn't it?” And we can't agree more.

SANGEETA BAROOAH PISHAROTY

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