Meet Swapan Nandy, Tripura’s mime artist who has been selected for the coveted Sangeet Natak Academy award this year. The tiny northeastern state had a rather feeble tradition of mime art till the ’70s when Nandy and a few of his buddies took up mime acting inspired by Yuri, a Soviet cultural worker who was then travelling to the northeast.
In an exclusive interview with indianexpress.com on Wednesday, the septuagenarian said he felt exhilarated at being chosen for one of nation’s most coveted civilian cultural awards. “I am very happy. However, my work will continue as usual. I have been performing mime acts for the last five decades. I shall continue to act and train youngsters,” he said.
He writes his own script, designs costumes, sets, props and even chooses his performers for every single event. However, Nandy has never teamed up for mime art. He says his primary passion is painting and he would feel ‘contained’ while giving too much time to any other craft.
Swapan Nandy finished school way back in 1965 and joined student politics at Government Art College, Kolkata. He completed two under-graduate courses in ceramics and fine arts between 1965 and 1971.
A lifelong Left cultural worker, he was associated with the Communist Party of India (CPI) in his college days but moved to CPI (M) after he took up a job with the state government’s Information and Cultural Affairs (ICA) Department. He joined government service as an Exhibition Officer in 1973, shortly after his return to Tripura and retired as a Joint Director in 2006.
He has trained numerous youngsters in mime acting, painting, dramaturgy in Tripura and different states of northeast India and abroad. He has attended workshops and symposiums across the world.
Strangely, though he is a renowned mime artist, he is better known as a painter. He was awarded Dhirendra Krishna Smriti Puraskar, Tripura’s highest cultural award, in 1987, Critic Council of India Award in 1979, Rabi Anurag Samman, Dakshini Samman, Biswabina Samman – all for his contribution to art.
Speaking about the contemporary political situation, the septuagenarian cultural worker said, “We used to perform at street corners since the 1970s. There was a rude shock during the Congress-TUJS coalition regime when artists and dramatists were beaten up. There is a huge risk of performing the truth these days as well under the current dispensation.”
Announcement of his award was soon reciprocated with warm greetings from his protégés like Goutam Debnath, wellwishers, even former Chief Minister Manik Sarkar.
Nandy lives with his wife Sanghamitra Nandy, his daughter Sarbani Nandy and granddaughter in Agartala.
His wife, an acclaimed painter herself, showed a pile of awards and felicitations lying on the floor, she said, “We just couldn’t organize them all.” There was a separate plaque with awards hanging on the wall.