Poirei is a rickshaw puller. He is also a philosopher agonised by the misery of man. Every day as he pulls his rickshaw through the streets, he encounters a chaotic environment and events that make his heart bleed. Poirei lives in Manipur and his daily excursions to earn a square meal bring him face to face with death and mourning. He sees men dying. He comes upon mothers calling out to their sons, searching, wailing and shouting. Much like Siddhartha, before he became the Buddha, Poirei searches for answers to the cause of this misery.
Poirei is the protagonist of a powerful play, Rickshaw Amasung Nongmei (Rickshaw and Gun), which the National School of Drama, or NSD, is bringing to audiences in Delhi, Amritsar, Jaipur and Vadodara starting next week. The play in Manipuri, written and directed by S Thaninleima, is part of NSD's "Poorvottar Rashtriya Rang Utsav", a festival of theatre from the Northeast. A total of five plays, two each from Manipur and Assam and one from Sikkim, will be staged.
This is the first time that a festival focused on theatre from the Northeastern states is being organised in the northern states of India. Last year, NSD had experimented with the concept by taking some plays from the Northeast to the south - to Hyderabad, Mysore, Bengaluru and Nashik. "They were very well received," says NSD Director Waman Kendre. "So this time we decided to head to states in the north." While NSD has since 2008 been taking plays from other parts of India to different regions of the Northeast under its annual theatre festival, "Poorvottar Natya Samaroh", the drama school felt that this should be a two-way process.
Though only five plays will be staged during the upcoming festival, they bring with them a variety of themes.
Eserenga Rod (A Sunny Morning), for example, is a short story set in Spain of sweethearts from the past. Written by Spanish dramatists Serafín and Joaquin Álvarez Quintero and directed by Pranjal Saikia, the play in Assamese begins with a 70-something Dona Laura entering a park leaning upon the arm of her maid, Petra. Around the same time, Gonzalo, a gouty, impatient gentleman in his eighties, enters the park. His usual bench is occupied by some priests so he is forced to share one with Laura. The two get talking and the conversation veers towards the romance of friends long gone. Time slips by and the two strangers keep conversing like old friends. But somewhere in that conversation is the sense that they are telling each other made up stories, of friends who don't exist at all.
Faith and social mores come up for question in Hami Nai Aafai Aaf, a play in Nepali inspired by Ab Na Banegi Dehari, a Hindi novel by Padma Sachdev, an acclaimed writer of Dogri language. This is the story of a widow and a saint who fall in love with each other, but what would be the consequence of this romance?
Greek tragedy also takes centre stage with Bacchae, written by Athenian playwright Euripides and directed by Thawai Thiyam. This grandiose revenge saga is based on the myth of king Pentheus of Thebes and the god Dionysus. Staged in Manipuri, the play juxtaposes the conflicting nature of man - one that is rational and civilised, as represented by Pentheus, and the other that is instinctive, as characterised by Dionysus.
And love, religion, revenge and loss of peace and friendship are the underlying themes of Lakhimi, written and directed by Anup Hazarika.
The plays are all in Manipuri, Nepali or Assamese. But Kendre isn't worried that language could be a barrier as NSD takes them to Punjab, Rajasthan and Gujarat apart from Delhi. "There is no language barrier in theatre, unless the play is verbose," he says. Even so, the audience will be given a synopsis of the plays before the shows.
NSD has regional theatre training centres in Gangtok (Sikkim) and Agarala (Tripura), with the Sikkim centre also running a repertory company. Hami Nai Aafai Aaf is, in fact, a presentation of the Sikkim repertory company.
The theatre festival starts in Delhi on August 24 and then travels to Amritsar (August 26-30), Jaipur (August 28-September 1) and Vadodara (August 30-September 3)