A young couple’s vision has put the remote district of Koraput on the country’s theatre map
Koraput, a tribal and underdeveloped region of Odisha that was plagued by starvation deaths for decades, is gradually gaining a new cultural identity.
The lush green Deomali hill, the highest peak in Odisha, is the venue for the annual month-long festival of Parab. And the six-year-old Deomali National Theatre Festival, hosted by the Koraput district administration, has added a lot of energy to a place already famous for its organic coffee. This year’s edition was held from September 23 to 25.
The brainchild of a young couple from Kolkata, Sourav and Monideepa Gupta, who came to Koraput nine years ago, it sprang from their committed campaign to establish a theatre culture in the town.
A self-taught theatre director, Sourav is the founder of Dumdum Spandan theatre group, where he met Monideepa, who has been doing theatre since childhood. “Theatre being a shared passion, we missed it terribly in Koraput and so we founded Nandanik two years after we came here,” says Sourav. Since they believed in intimate theatre settings, they used parks, marriage mandaps and school classrooms to stage plays.
While Sourav scripted and directed the plays, Monideepa, with her experience in acting, video-audio editing, choreography, theatre music, make-up and lighting, became the backbone of Nandanik. The Children’s Theatre Ensemble that has brought laurels for Nandanik is her idea.
Their efforts have yielded rich dividends. The town, which had hardly any formal cultural activity now boasts of an annual theatre festival.
“If we could watch plays in eight Indian languages in our home town in the past six years, which included works of great writers like Ibsen, Chekov, Bharatendu, Manoj Das, Ramakant Rath and Manoj Mitra, it was due to the couple’s vision,” says Pritidhara Samal, poet and convener of the popular Koraput Sahitya Utsav.
Sourav and Monideepa Gupta | Photo Credit: Nandanik, Koraput
Takers for theatre
Says Saumendra Swain, a lecturer by profession and theatre activist by passion, “I was already into acting and stagecraft before Nandanik came into being, but my close association with it has changed my approach to the art form. As one of the hosts of the event, I am now familiar with the latest trends in Indian theatre and have interacted with several eminent theatre personalities.”
Are there enough takers for a theatre festival in this small tribal town? “For us, what matters most is the quality of our audience. Less than 100 people from this town attend, but they are as passionate and committed as connoisseurs. They join us for all events without fail. More importantly, they have developed such a sense of appreciation of theatre that many of them have evolved as honest critics of the plays,” says Sourav, who went on to get a doctorate in using theatre as a tool of communication in the Koraput-Balangir-Kalahandi region.
The festival apart, Nandanik’s seminars, workshops, annual awards and lectures have been instrumental in initiating a serious theatre culture in the region. They have had an event to commemorate Shakespeare’s 400th death anniversary, mime workshops, and folk art festivals.
Performance from the Lokjatra folk theatre festival | Photo Credit: Nandanik, Koraput
Celebrating folk theatre
In 2017, they hosted Lok Jatra, a national folk theatre festival, featuring nine folk forms from seven Indian states. It was done in collaboration with Sangeet Natak Akademi.
“While exposing local artistes and audiences to the global theatre culture, we are equally committed to highlighting local theatre traditions and talents. We feature at least one folk theatre form from this region in the annual festival. We have also instituted the Asim Basu award for local talent in memory of Odisha’s theatre legend,” says Sourav.
Monideepa has been making great efforts to bring women and children, especially from the tribes, into theatre. She had done a stint as project officer for a rural youth empowerment programme in Koraput. “The assignment helped me discover Koraput. I came in contact with scores of young tribal and rural girls, some of whom have joined our theatre movement and proved their talent in acting,” says Monideepa.
The 10 tribal girls who are a part of the Nandanik ensemble talk of how immensely they enjoy acting and, even more, travelling across towns and cities to perform. Sanam Gahan, the protagonist in Nandanik’s latest production, Nayeeka (The Heroine); and Rashmita Dahl, who has a prominent role in Sriya Chandaluni, a play on women’s empowerment, have earned laurels for their acting. “We really love the characters of strong women,” both say.
“It was not easy to involve girls,” says Monideepa. “Six years ago, when I thought of celebrating World Street Theatre Day, I invited two women to join me. While both came forward happily and their families had no objection either, people criticised me for making women perform on the streets. But things are changing for the better.”
The Bhubaneshwar-based journalist writes on culture.
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