Friday, September 16, 2011

Theatre in Nagaland

The National School of Drama (NSD) ( became an independent organisation under the Ministry of Culture in 1975.  It is now one of the most important theatre education resource centres in India with special facilities for arranging and conducting children’s theatre activities in North East India to stage plays that encourage children to raise questions, take decisions and make choices. 
The North East Zone Cultural Centre (NEZCC) in Dimapur collaborates with NSD for regular theatre workshops for children, and in August 2011 a month long workshop was held in Medziphema in Nagaland for children from St Frances De Sales Higher Secondary School.  The workshop was led by Mr. Alopi Verma, a Director and Art Director in films and TV serials.  Mr. Verma had come with a play but he soon realized that it was not relevant, and a new play “Freedom of Choice” was evolved with inputs from Assistant Directors Mr. Zhokhoi Chakhesang and Mr. Boavi Swu from a local organisation, Dreamz Unlimited. 

I accompanied the Joint Director of NEZCC, Mr. Talinokcha for the opening performance of “Freedom of Choice”, at SASRD Auditorium in Medziphema.    The venue was packed to maximum capacity, the play received a lot of appreciation from the audience and the young actors were clearly absorbed in their performance, but in Nagamese language I was unable to grasp the immensely popular jokes that caused so much amusement. 
This was the first time I had heard of theatre in Nagaland, and impressed by the unanimous appreciation the play received, I wanted to find out more and I arranged to meet Mr. Tiakumzuk Ao (Tia), President of Dreamz Unlimited. Tia tells me that NSD first came to Nagaland in 2001.  More workshops were held in 2002 and 2003, and in 2008 Tia auditioned for a 45 day residential workshop, in which Ibsen’s “Doll’s House”, was translated and performed in Nagamese.  This led to setting up Dreamz Unlimited, and more plays  - Moliere’s “Scabin, the Scoundrel” and “Technicolour Dreams”, a play evolved by Naga students that spoke of contemporary Naga issues such as corruption. 

The objectives of Dreamz Unlimited are to bring Nagaland onto the map of theatre, to make a positive change in society and to preserve folk stories and culture through theatre.  To date there have been no major roles for Nagas in mainstream Hindi films (Bollywood), where aspiring Naga actors are likely to face racial discrimination.   “Although Nagas are making advances in technical fields they are still not encouraged to consider a career in acting”, explains Tia. 
As the name suggests this is also the theme of “Freedom of Choice”.  In the play, children wanted to choose their own profession but there is still pressure from the older generation to acquire secure government employment.  “Youngsters perceptions are changing and they want to follow their own dreams and make their own choices.  In the play, the father was poor and he wanted his children to perform well in exams and aim for senior positions in government offices.  The play was divided into separate stories infused with themes that are relevant to society here; for example wealthy people who do not help others and messages of civic sense.  The audience really enjoyed the characters in the play based on the stereotypes we see here.  When the father died, his son left home and joined an Underground faction to become a big man with money.  These situations exist in Nagaland”, explains Tia.

Regarding options for actors in Nagaland I am told that film-makers for Doordarshan have started approaching the small organisation for actors for their productions, but as yet there is no satellite TV channel for the Northeast region.   Serials are shown on the Kohima channel (Doordarshan) from 5-7pm.  Other channels are Doordarshan Northeast and NETV, both from Assam. 

Tia has noticed changes over the past few years.  In 2007 an indigenous folk fusion group, Abiogenesis collaborated with Dreamz Unlimited and NEZCC for a theatre show, and in 2009 the indigenous production, “Technicolour Dream” was performed at the Hornbill Festival.  “Traditional dances are always the same young people want something new”, he remarks.

Within three years Dreamz Unlimited will be eligible for government support.     

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