Thirty seven years ago in November 1980, visiting Imphal, Manipur, for a dance conference with Kamala Devi Chattopadhyaya, Dr. Kapila Vatsyayan and Usha Malik, by sheer fortuitous circumstances I saw Bhasa’s play Urubhangam in Meitei language directed by Ratan Thiyam. It was an eye opener. Today, Ratan Thiyam has acquired global appreciation for his outstanding theatre productions under the banner of Chorus Repertory Theatre. In all departments his theatre breathes perfection. A troupe of gifted Manipuri actors who know dance, music, singing, martial arts under Ratan’s watchful direction deliver excellent results.
Known as theatre of roots in the eighties, there was a movement to look at our traditional Sanskrit theatre, its construction, abhinaya as per the principles mentioned in Natyashastra, use of vachikabhinaya, movements, dance, music, aharya, costumes, and imaginative light designing, use of few props and seek continuity. Among them, late K.N. Panicker from Kerala and Ratan Thiyam from Manipur, worked in that direction producing outstanding Sanskrit theatre that illuminated the theory of Rasa as enunciated in Bharata’s Natyashastra.
Ratan Thiyam chose Bhasa’s play Urubhangam getting it translated into Meitei-Manipuri language by A. Krishna Mohan Sharma. I had studied Bhasanatakachakra, the plays of Bhasa, during my studies of Sanskrit for MA degree and was familiar with the original Sanskrit text. Therefore, the Meitei language did not pose any problem. But Ratan’s design, music and direction were so eloquent that even when audience does not follow the dialogue, the sheer visual appeal of the production and abhinaya by the actors communicate a lot.
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