Over two months, around 400 Indian groups selected for the Eighth international Theatre Olympics are crisscrossing the country, performing in 17 cities. The logistics and finances involved boggle the mind, begging investigation at a later date. For now, let us applaud the National School of Drama for planning this stupendous cornucopia – on paper. Still, some local number-crunching: 15 Indian troupes came to Kolkata, which sounds good, except that on seven evenings different productions occupied two venues, so that no theatre lover could actually see more than half the shows. I managed to catch four of them. Better scheduling could have prevented such conflicts.

Three of these four originate in Imphal, one of our most vibrant theatre cultures, sadly neglected. Theatre Art Association’s The Journey of Sorrow impressed the most, about the tragic suicides of farmers who “take birth in debt, and die in debt”, to quote director Joy Maisnam. He conceptualizes it as dance theatre with minimal text in Hindi, because he assembled a truly national cast from all over who rehearsed in Delhi. Their psycho-physical intensity convinced me they were dancers, when in fact Maisnam had galvanized them perfectly, supported by Debarati Majumdar’s soundtrack.

NT Theatre’s A Far Cry, written by Budha Chingtham and directed by Ningthouja Deepak, spotlights the terrible conditions of Manipuris under the insurgency. The central pitiful image is a woman who pulls a Mother Courage-like wagon collecting corpses, after her family’s deaths imbalance her. Kalakshetra, since Kanhailal’s death, enters a phase of rebuilding on Keishumshang-gee Nupi (Prisoned Woman). Heisnam Tomba’s script and direction present the trauma of women, scripturally sanctified as the second sex and de-evolved by men into the position of caged apes. Tomba needs to make his writing more complex (patching two disparate Manipuri sources does not work) and the agony less loud.

The pioneering Tamil repertory, Koothu-p-pattarai, also must reinvent itself. Dramatist-director N. Muthuswamy’s Brahannalai, distilled from popular Terukkuttu versions, made sense in the previous century, but today, with our greater awareness and appreciation of Terukkuttu’s theatricality, we miss its dizzying pirouettes and ornate costumes. However playfully retold, Brihannala’s basic storyline cannot compensate.

(From The Telegraph, 24 March 2018)