Rooted in Tradition

Rooted in Tradition

Manipuri playwright and theatre director Ratan Thiyam,who will receive the Bhupen Hazarika National Award in the city,sees theatre as a composite art form.

An artiste endeavours to portray the beauty and truth in the world,whatever it may be. Art is learning from nature,learning from the past and from tradition,” says playwright and theatre director Ratan Thiyam,whose internationally acclaimed plays hold true to the same principle — be it Uttar Priyadarshi or Ritusamharam.

Thiyam,who won the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 1987 and was presented with the Padma Shri in 1989,besides several other accolades for his work,will soon be in the city to receive the second Bhupen Hazarika National Award from city-based NGO,Sarhad. “I feel deeply honoured but the award is more than that. Bhupen da and I were very close and worked together many times. The award is a kind of remembrance of the source of inspiration he has been for me,” says Thiyam.

Thiyam is considered one of the pioneers of the theatre of roots movement in India during the ’70s,building contemporary theatre works based on traditional stories and folk tales. His play Urubhangam (broken thigh) is based on a story from the Mahabharata,while Ritusamharam is his representation of Kalidasa’s epic poem.

“When we talk of tradition,we think of stagnant water,but tradition flows with time. Traditions that are thousands of years old,when joined with modern technology and understanding,can flow strong enough to thrust upon stones or anything else in their way,” he says,adding,“Theatre is a composite art form. Knowledge of everything is required in theatre; the more you know of other art forms,other shapes and elements,the more powerful theatre becomes.”


While Thiyam’s themes often take inspiration from pan-Indian traditions,his work also pays homage to his Manipuri roots,either in the form of plays themed on Manipur (Nine Hills,One Valley) or by incorporating Manipuri elements such as the use of Thang-ta (martial art created by the Meitei of Manipur) in Urubhangam. “I am Manipuri. When I eat Manipuri food,naturally my tongue will also speak Manipuri,” he says.

His attachment to his roots is evident not just in his work,but also in the stands he takes in life. In 2001,Thiyam returned his Padma Shri title to protest against the violence in Manipur. “It was a very long time ago. I am happy to have done it,because Manipur was burning at that time. It was a protest,not a dishonouring of the award,” he says.

Hailing from a region fraught with violence,Thiyam’s work also explores a search for peace and solace. For instance,Uttar Priyadarshi (the final beatitude) is based on the story of King Ashoka’s struggle against his own dark side and his redemption as he makes a plea for peace. “Everybody in the world — not just me — wants peace and love. These are the two things that are the need of the hour for civilization. Without peace or love,we cannot really have relationships,which are very important in human understanding. Many will agree that we need peace,not war,” he says.

Working along the same theme,Thiyam is now preparing for the opening of his latest — his take on Macbeth. “The play treats Macbeth’s story as a disease of greed and unlimited desire that is spreading all over the world,” he says. The play will open in Imphal on December 17,” he adds.

The award ceremony will be hosted at Maratha Chamber of Commerce on

November 8,11 am,and will be attended

by Tej Hazarika and Amol Palekar,

who will present the award

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