But the World War caught up with them, the military occupied the temporary stage in May 1944, and Rupmahal had to use other halls. This decision actually benefited the group by rapidly expanding its audience and developing its organizational experience. The utilization of venues near the palace enabled it to secure direct patronage of the reigning prince Bodhchandra during 1941- 55. The politically aware leaders, many of them Congress workers, were extremely conscious of the role of theatre. In 1947, when the British gave Manipur back its independent status, the state's economic impoverishment influenced the Council of Ministers of India to levy amusement tax from theatres. Nilamani Singh and others went on the first hunger strike by artistes for a cause. The police arrested and deported them. Rupmahal's artistes followed them and brought them home and the state exempted theatre from amusement tax.
Through a stroke of luck, Rupmahal received from the British political agent a plot in the centre of town. That was the most strategic area for a theatre group. This constructed a miniature version of Kolkata's Star Theatre. Inaugurated in July 1948, this stage hosted two to four productions a year. Within months, outstanding new plays established Rupmahal as the centre of Manipuri theatre. The troupe developed its own identity of slow, meticulous, near-classical form of acting, elaborate stage properties, and emphasis on speech and voice projection where volume, accent, and range became distinctive.
The productions of 1948 were extremely powerful. Images of the rapidly heightening culture of capitalistic development and the potential of the commercial era were as follows. A large stage 17m wide, freshly painted naturalistic scenery, an array of deeply resonant voices, and the most beautiful girls on display. S. Tondon became the cynosure of all eyes with her beauty, doe-like riveting eyes, and the poignancy of her songs. Her roles in Yaithing Kotw in 1948 and A. Dorendrajit's Moirang Thoibi i.e. "Thoibi of Moirang" in 1948 found her a place in the hearts of Rupmahal's audience and earned the immediate attention of royalty. Bodhchandras affair with her became a cause celebre, especially when she insisted on the title of a queen. Rupmahal continued to have strong, stunning heroines, its productions of Sita, Ibemma i.e. "Maiden", and Mainu Pemcha starring the dancer Thambal Angoubi accelerating its fortune.
Yaithing Konu was dramatized by M. Bira and Hijam Romoni from a text by Romoni's father. Hijam Angahal was a poet, playwright, and director of repute. It is a romantic tale from the Moirang cycle of seven tragedies of lovers. As constructed by the VaishnavaRupmahal, the play retained the spine of the tragedy but in simple melodramatic sequences, new middle-class language, and avoiding sexually exploitable scenes and including a secular moral on needs of parents to understand the wills of their daughters. In aesthetic and structural terms it was pre-modern, but the theme of a beautiful girl hiding her lover in a room for months and their essentially sexual relationship projected onto the colourful proscenium enraptured the public. Biras Tikendrajit in 1951 was based on the 1891 freedom struggle when the native heroes Tikendrajit and Thangal were hanged by the British, became Rupmahal's magnum opus. Premiered on August 13, the day of the hanging, it surpassed all existing records for popularity. In 1966, it celebrated its hundredth show, and still has three shows every August 13th. It contained anti colonial prejudice against Indian clerks and officials who helped the Raj. It exposed their manoeuvre, and their characters were enacted with skill by Netrajit and Nilamani. However, a mistress of Tikendrajit was idealized as a heroine who resisted the British and wreaked revenge on the clerks. This was a sentimental fiction and had no connection to history.
Tikendrajit's pride, arrogance, and aristocratic sensibility were portrayed by the powerful S. Nabakanta Singh, with a deep echoing voice, and his movements, phlegmatic temper, concentration of energy, and explosion of vitality perfectly conveyed the psyche of a patriot. The guile of the elder statesman Thangal was depicted by Bira, the director. The very popularity of the play got Rupmahal entangled with the establishment again. The families of the Indian officials objected to the 'misrepresentation' of their forebears and the police seized the text. All subsequent performances relied on scripts rewritten from memory by the cast. Public support helped continue the production.
Rupmahal's conservative management consolidated establishment values, while occasionally dabbling in anti-establishment material. Contemporary social drama, satire on women's materialistic attitudes, plays on the agitation for statehood, and iconoclastic comedies by G. C. Tongbra were mounted in the 1950s and 1960s. This was a period of popularization and commercialism. Yet curfew was enforced at the venue and Tongbra received a police summons after the premiere of Leibak houba andoLal or 'Earth-shaking Agitation' in 1960. This was directed by Bira.
The rest of the century saw Rupmahal's material expansion, different from the modern winds blowing in younger troupes. It became the factory of popular theatre and paid well for scripts from mainstream dramatists. Its own playwrights had an intuitive understanding of escapist public values. Thus it created an ambience divorced from the aesthetic realities of the past and unattached to the deep anxieties of the present. It need not work for change since its capital accumulation, largesse to artists, assured stability of a captive clientele, and commercial profit from extra-theatrical businesses do not provide the stuff to stir the members' imagination. However, its history and gamut of acting styles i.e. the classicism of Nabakumar and Nabakanta, the volatility and energy of Bira, the self-deprecatory anti-heroism of Netrajit and Nilamani, the suave superiority of Dhiren, the sophisticated fool played by R. K. Bijoysana gave Rupmahal an indelible stamp.
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