It had fallen — crushed and shattered — gasping out the final breaths, but because of the efforts of four men, Odia Natya or theatre has begun to bud again. It has slowly been nursed back to life by the single minded determination of Ananta Mohapatra, Ajit Das, Dhira Mallick and Subodh Patnaik.
These four men have strived over the years to give a new interpretation to the dying tradition of professional Odia theatre and redefine it on the contemporary mould. “I cannot imagine my existence without Odia theatre, which has given me my identity. If by my small efforts, I can keep the flames of the tradition burning, my life will have its meaning,” the senior most of them all Ananta Mohapatra says. Mohapatra has formed the Utkal Rangamancha Trust with a group of 20 artists to revive professional theatre. As traditional theatre groups like Annapurna Theatre, Janata Rangamanch and Kalashree Theatre faded out, they spelt doom for Odia theatre. “The advent of TV almost dealt the final blow. Besides, the high cost of production proved a mountain of an obstacle,” says Mohapatra who started his journey in the 1960s by forming the Srujani Theatre group. The veteran has written, directed and acted over 60 plays and worked with the likes of Girish Karnad and Vijay Tendulkar.
One of the leading lights of Odia theatre, Ajit Das attributes the situation to lack of ideas and innovation in the field. While the audience moved on, the plays stuck to the bygone era. A disconnect between the spectator and the theatre arose and thus, the downfall. “Besides lack of patronage and funds have pulled back evolution of theatre,” the 1975 alumni of the National School of Drama says. Under a career spanning over 37 years, Das has directed over 100 plays. To patronise theatre, his students formed Abhinaya Jagruti Institute of Theatre (AJIT) and AJIT Theatre group in 2001.
Besides directing, Das trains budding theatre actors at his institute. “There is a scarcity of good quality actors in Odia theatre. Whoever pass out from the Utkal Sangeet Mahavidyalaya join TV and films. Hence, we decided to set up the institute which trains 20 to 25 aspiring theatre actors every year,” Das adds.
Like Das, his student Dhira Mallick is striving to impart a new edge to modern Odia theatre through his group Shatabdira Kalakar. Mallick infused some exclusive Odia folk elements in his plays so as to create a unique identity.
Taking theatre a step ahead is ace theatre person Subodh Patnaik. Every year, Patnaik and his friends cycle through rural Odisha to spread theatre and share a social message. His theatre organisation, Natya Chetana, has been around for over 26 years. Natya Chetana team has covered around 10,000 km to perform theatre at