(Last Updated on : 29-01-2009)
Bhramyaman Mancha or mobile theatre is a phenomenon in modern-day Assamese theatre. Touring repertories with a difference, they visit towns and remote villages in trucks carrying their own stages, equipment, generators, and even auditoria. Fully self contained, they pitch their tents in open spaces and erect a makeshift auditorium with a seating capacity of 2000. For quick change of scenes, two stages are placed side by side, which in no time can be converted to a single stage. Three stages and stages on rails were used only for once. Companies normally have two sets of twin stages. While the troupe performs at one place, an advance party erects the other set at the next venue. The average stay at each venue is four days. A company consists of 75-125 personnel i.e. cast and crew, including musicians, electricians, and even cooks. Everyone is paid at such theatre, and star artistes receive handsome salaries as well. It is a full-time occupation. Usually, after rehearsing for about two months, troupes go on the road around the end of August, performing every night till mid-April the following year.
Mobile theatre of Assam has certain things in common with the 'Jatra' of West Bengal. One of the similarities can be mentioned as, the roving nature and performance on makeshift stages. The Assam productions put in much more effort for technical perfection and have evolved from depictions of mythological stories to themes of contemporary nature. Adaptation of ever-new themes and an eye to changing interests have ensured that the mobile theatre genre does not loose its appeal to the young audience either. With the Assamese film industry in a deep slumber, the plays have also provided the artists another platform to showcase their talent. The glamour quotient in these plays is ensured as Assamese film stars take up lead roles. It thus vindicates the significant place the mobile theatres hold in the media and entertainment industry in the state.
Although Assamese companies had toured since the 1920s, the mobile-theatre concept was the brainchild of the young theatre worker Achyut Lahkar. Along with his brother, Sada Lahkar, he launched the Nataraj Theatre on this model in 1963. It was an instant success. Now there are thirty such companies and the movement has become big business. Usually, each has a repertoire of four plays chosen from translations, adaptations, classics, or originals and about an equal number of short nritya-natya i.e. dance-dramas presented as curtain-raisers. Every evening a new bill is offered. It is not that a production cannot be repeated the following season, but generally new plays are put up. There are some dozen playwrights who specialize in writing for the mobile theatre. Themes, though varied, follow a pattern that depends on popular taste and the dominant socio-political issues. Subjects cover everything from Hindu myths to the latest hit films, such as Bandit Queen enacted on stage by Assamese actress Seema Biswas, reprising her on-screen role. Titanic was also staged, on the S. S. Titanic disaster. High drama, extravaganza, and visual stunts are the main features in such play. The most popular Bollywood movie Sholay was also staged in such mobile theatre with least difference from the real one.