Cover Story

Taking Theatre to the Centre Stage

 In conversation with veteran theatre director and educator Anup Hazarika


In the theatre world of Assam, Anup Hazarika is a name which hardly needs an introduction. A well-known theatre artist and activist, Hazarika has spent his entire life making a concentrated effort to carve a niche for Assamese theatre. One of the first graduates of the prestigious National School of Drama (NSD), New Delhi, Hazarika along with his contemporaries, Baharul Islam, Bhagirathi Bai Kadam, and others created a new love and passion for theatre amongst the people of Assam when they started Seagull Theatre. Since then, he has been working as an actor in mobile theatres and films and directed a number of critically acclaimed plays for a number of theatre groups like School of Drama: Ankon, Ingit (Jorhat), Taralangsho Cultural Society in KarbiAnglong besides his own theatre repertoire, Ba.

A front-runner in the theatre world of Assam, Anup Hazarika has acted and directed a number of plays all over the country. Presently head of the acting faculty of Dr.Bhupen Hazarika Regional Government Film and Television Institute (earlier known as Jyoti Chitrabon Film and Television Institute), Hazarika has been working with utmost sincerity and dedication to create a new wave for Assamese theatre in other parts of India. As a theatre educator, he has taught in theatre schools and institutes across the entire breadth of the country, besides conducting a number of theatre workshops as an educator and director. A silent worker with an unassuming demeanour, his group, Ba, which he runs with the help of his wife and eminent theatre activist Pakeeja Begum, has showcased the aesthetic brilliance and capabilities of Assamese theatre across the entire length and breadth of India.

His contributions to the development of the theatre world of Assam has been recognised at a number of platforms on different occasions. 

While as an actor and director, Anup Hazarika has a number of plays to his credit in different languages - be it Hindi, Assamese, Karbi, English, etc, one of his major achievements is the grooming of young actors in the field of acting through his theatre repertoire, Ba. In this regard, it is indeed a matter of pride that the group of young actors under the theatre repertoire, Ba,has been selected to perform one of his most widely acclaimed plays, Charandas Chor, in the 8th International Theatre Olympics to be held this Sunday in Delhi. This is the first time that the theatre Olympics is being organized in India; the Olympics had earlier been held in Delphi (Greece, 1995), Shizuoka, Japan (1999), Moscow, Russia (2001), Istanbul, Turkey (2006), Seoul, South Korea (2010), Beijing, China (2014) and in Poland (2016).

The melange team recently met the veteran director at his residence-cum-performing studio to watch the rehearsals of the play and also to know more about his journey in the field of drama and acting. 

Following are excerpts:

Q. Please tell us about the National Theatre Olympics. How big an honour is it to represent Assam in this international extravaganza and your preparations for the same?

Ans: We are currently preparing to stage my play 'Charandas Chor'in the 8th Theatre Olympics which is going to be held for the first time in India. The 8th Theatre Olympics will be held from February 17 to April 8, 2018 in Delhi and other major metro cities of the country. The NSD Society has decided to showcase outstanding plays and productions from the Bharat Rang Mahotsav as one of the selections in the Olympics. We are thankful to the National School of Drama for selecting our play and giving us an opportunity to represent Assam in this mega international event. We are very fortunate that we have got a nice performance slot i.e. 6 pm on Sunday (March 4) and are hopeful of getting a large audience to come watch our performance.

Q. Please tell us about the play CharandasChor…

Ans: CharandasChor is based on a story written by Habib Tanvir. While Bhagirathi Bai Kadam has translated it from Kannad into Hindi in 1993, I later translated it into an Assamese play. Incidentally, this play was my first joint production, staged in Palashbari at the Palashbari Natya Mandir 1995. While we have been staging this play quite frequently, we started working on it on a regular basis only from 2010.

Q. You are one of the first graduates from the prestigious National School of Drama. Please tell us about your childhood and how you got into NSD?

Ans:I was born in a small village in a place called Nitaipukhuri, located on the banks of the River Dihing, in Sivasagar district. I grew up in the village and studied in the local MV school where my mother was also a teacher. In our village, the village folks had established a small library called Sudarshan Puthi Bharal and I have fond memories of reading books and acting in plays staged in that library. I also used to watch Bhaonas being staged at the local naamghar but before I was old enough to perform in Bhaonas, I had to shift to Moran for my further studies. I enrolled in Moran HS and it was in Moran that I came into close contact with people from the theatre world. In Moran, I was part of two groups - Moran MIlitaSilpiSamaj and Abhyudoy NatyaSamaj - and we travelled to nearby areas performing one-act plays and other theatrical productions.

I graduated from B Barooah College in Guwahati and worked for a short while with an organization in Guwahati. The organization was basically a platform for dissemination of career-related information. During that period, I got the news about admission to the National School of Drama and I applied for the same. I got through the prelims in Kolkata and also the finals held in Delhi. So after taking due permission from my superior officer, I joined the NSD in 1987 and passed out after three years in 1990.

Q. You have been associated with the formation of Seagull Theatre Group as well…

Ans: After passing out from NSD in 1990, I came back to Assam and started Seagull Theatre Group along with Baharul Islam and others. We worked hard to establish Seagull as a prominent theatre group during that time and travelled widely performing plays and training young people in theatre. My first play after coming back from NSD was Uruxa, which was directed by Baharul Islam. I then acted in a television serial 'Jibanor Batot' and also worked in the NSD Repertoire Company in Delhi as a casual artist for a short while.

Q. How do you look back at the scenario of theatre in the State when you came back from NSD and the present situation. Do you have any message for new youngsters willing to take up acting?

Ans: When we came back to Assam after passing out from NSD, the theatre scene in Assam was already vibrant, thanks to the efforts of Dulal Roy who worked relentlessly for the promotion of theatre through the Directorate of Cultural Affairs. He is truly a doyen as far as modern Assamese theatre is concerned and he showed us the path that we would take in the future.

Simultaneously, Indra Bania had started his own acting school, School of Acting, in Chandmari where both Baharul and me joined as faculty members. That was our initial venture into the field of theatre education. Although Baharul left soon to work through Seagull and I too went my own way, our tryst with theatre education continued. Herein, I once again reiterate the legacy of Dulal Roy who played a pivotal role in the development of theatre education in Assam. We simply followed his footsteps and under our tutelage, a new generation of actors have come up in the State. Both theatre and theatre education in Assam is now a vibrant cultural and art form and we feel proud to say that we have made at least a little bit of contribution towards its development. 

Q. You have been working silently through your organization 'Baa' with your wife, Pakeja Begum. Please tell us about the genesis of the organization.

Ans: The name 'Ba', which means a melodious breeze, was given to our group by cultural doyen Amulya Kataki whom I regard as my guru. Although our group was formed in 1995, we staged our first production, 'Agnigarh', which was written by Arun Sharma, only in 1996. Since then, we have performed around 32 plays and conducted theatre training workshops in different parts of the country.

My wife Pakeeja Begum is the pillar of the organization, Ba. A talented and reputed artist herself, it is entirely due to her efforts that Ba has been able to move ahead as a noteworthy theatre group in a disciplined and orderly fashion. While I am there to supplement her efforts, the success that Ba has attained as a cultural organization would not have been possible without her.

Q. What are your future plans?

Ans: It is difficult to talk about what the future has in store. But yes, I am concentrating a lot in reading. As artists, it is important that we read a lot. In fact, we have to read a lot more than common people. Unfortunately, I had lost touch and I have started reading once again to keep myself updated.

Q. Please tell us a bit about your family

Ans: As mentioned, my family comprises of my wife Pakeeja Begum and my daughter. My daughter is studying in Army Public School and while she loves academics, she also shares the same love for theatre that we both do.