FirstAct: In 'Between the Banks', a physical performance embodies Manipur's infrastructural irregularities, repercussions
Akhoka Theatre's Between the Banks aspires to embody the physical attitude and behaviour of contemporary Manipur from the context of a developmental project initiated by the state government, particularly the Dolaithabi dam in Manipur.
Editor's note: With FirstAct, Firstpost is collaborating with theatre and improv artists from all over India, who'll perform short pieces or readings over a Zoom video-conference call.
After FirstAct's debut show with Improv Comedy Bangalore, followed by Drama Queen's For Tomorrow, Theatre Jil Jil Ramamani's Haiku in a Bun, OGLAM's Abey Yaar!, Chanakya Vyas' Leftovers, and MD Pallavi's Salt we are all set to present our next — Between the Banks. It will be broadcast on our Facebook, YouTube and Instagram pages (IGTV) at 7 pm IST on 13 November, 2020.
Following is an edited excerpt of the reflections of Between the Banks creator and Imphal-based theatre practitioner Victor Thoudam ahead of the premiere of his show on Firstpost.
The planning commission of India in 1992 approved the Dolaithabi Barrage Project and it was inaugurated on 4 January 2019. The project, when completed, is envisaged to provide irrigation to 7545 hectares of agriculture land in downstream villages. The celebratory mood quickly faded as adverse realities slowly unfolded both upstream and downstream of the Dolaithabi dam and villagers started raising complaints. The complaints pertain not only to the non-provision of water for the agriculture fields, but also the faulty nature of the designs of the canals, leading to a reverse, unexpected and problematic flow of water.
The Dolaithabi dam, which has seen substantial delays and cost overrun and failing to perform as expected now seems to qualify as yet another dubious and failed project that squandered peoples' resources. The project was substantially delayed and it was commissioned after 27 years of its project approval in 1992. In the span of these 27 years, the cost of the project has increased almost 20 times from the original estimate, and reached nearly Rs 500 crores. The Dolaithabi dam seems to be another white elephant, fast emerging in Manipur's northern landscapes, as though similar failed structures, Khuga dam in the south, Khoupum dam in the west and Mapithel dam in the east are simply insufficient for Manipur.
Between the Banks aims to understand and embody the irregularities in infrastructure — its serious repercussions for people as well as the environment, and the faulty promises undertaken by the concerned authorities — to create a physical performance.
Foray into the digital space —
It has opened up different avenues of understanding and doing theatre. Since theatre pertains to live performance medium, when it comes to the digital space one has to understand the medium of the camera. I think it becomes an interdisciplinary medium, which has a lot of scope to experiment and expand.
Traditional theatre vs digital theatre —
When you write the performance for a digital space you have to picture both the performance language along with the visual language. One has to be very aware of the random ambient sound while taking the performance video. For example, there is a sound of a bell at the end of my first narration in Between the Banks. It was a surround sound and I never had the slightest clue that the bell sound would pop up. Instead of chopping it off, the sound of the bell has been incorporated making it a part of the performance. If it were some other sound maybe I would've had to retake my narration again. Therefore one has to be very careful of the surround sound. The performance also needs to be understood from the editor’s point of view along with sound mixing and colour correction.
If it were a stage performance I would allow a lot of movement and actions in the piece. In a stage production, I have to find means for a transition from one scene to another scene and seek different ways of connecting with the audience. One very interesting thing would be finding the best spot for the video projection with regard to the context of the performance. I used sand on the table for my second narration and if it were for stage production the floor of the stage would be filled with sand so that the performer could play with it enliven it and look at ways for transforming it.
Between the Banks: Themes and thoughts —
Between the Banks is inspired by contemporary Manipur. Manipur seems to be in a very difficult situation in a very critical time. Most of the developmental projects constructed in Manipur have failed to deliver their promises to the people, for instance, the Khuga dam, Khoupum dam and Mapithel dam and Dolaithabi dam being a recent one. Thousands of crores have been spent on these projects. And one may ask what have the people benefited from these developmental projects? It seems that these developmental projects have become a curse to the common people instead.
It is high time we had a collective understanding of the reasons behind its failure and its non-functional characters or we may never able to rise again from corruption, embezzlement of public funds, bribery, deceit, nepotism and politicking etc, because such practices would be normalised very soon in the coming days.
There are different ways of expressing these concerns and I believe creating a performance in the digital space is another way of sharing these concerns and beliefs. Aren’t these failures a reflection of the times we are living in? It is not just the failure of one developmental project; it’s about many projects where crores of rupees have been spent. What you get is nothing compared to the time and money expended on it. Therefore these failures reflect the negative work culture, inefficiency, politics of delay, corruption and bad governance of contemporary Manipur.
Watch Akhoka Theatre's Between the Banks here.
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