According to Jerzy Grotowsky, art is a ripening, an evolution, an uplifting which enables us to emerge from darkness into a blaze of light.
The theatre is one of the most impactful forms of art and has been the heart of culture and society. Theatre in India has evolved; the first-century theatre was known to be in lyrical Sanskrit to plays used as an instrument of protest against colonial rule, to contemporary drama.
Riken is an actor, director, actor trainer, martial artist and choreographer, and one of the first from Arunachal Pradesh to graduate from National School of Drama, New Delhi.
Growing up in the small town of Likabali in Lower Siang, today he has dedicated himself to redefine theatre and change people’s perception about drama, in his state.
As John Lennon sings in his masterpiece, Beautiful Boy, that life is what happens while you are busy making other plans. Similarly, theatre happened to him by coincidence. While he was pursuing his masters of political science at Rajiv Gandhi Central University, Itanagar, he saw an advertisement of a 45-day NSD workshop and thought of giving a try as he was having his vacation. This was a life-changing decision for him. By the end of his workshop, he was certain that theatre was his soul food.
Since the beginning of his journey in dramatics, he has acted in more 30 plays with leading directors of India and abroad and has directed more than 18 plays. He is presently serving as Assistant Professor (Acting) at Hyderabad Central University and the visiting faculty (for physical theatre) at National School of Drama, New Delhi, NSD (Sikkim), NSD (Agartala), and Rajasthan University.
His keen interest in making movies which led to his working as the creative director and actor in the movie ‘1962: My Country Land’, which was premiered in Festival de Cannes in 2016. Being a physical theatre fanatic, he is a member of a Poland-based international physical theatre studio, Studio Matenka, Wroclaw, Poland and has collaborated in several short films in India and abroad. Riken feels he has grown manifold by working with directors like Robin Das and Ranjit Kapoor. This year, he will be seen in Anurag Basu’s ‘Jagga Jasoos’ sharing screen with accomplished actors like Ranbir and Katrina.
Riken’s thoughts on the kind of theatre he wants to pursue are clear and revolutionary. He has learnt and researched ‘physical theatre’ for two years at The Grotowski Institute in Wrocław. Jerzy Grotowski, as one might know, was an innovative Polish theatre director and theorist whose approaches to acting, training and theatrical production have significantly influenced contemporary theatre.
“My focus is to make theatre and performing arts relevant to our society, especially in Arunachal, where the contemporary theatre is in its inception,” says Riken.
The acting methods of the 18th century need an overhaul to be able to stand the test of time and make sense to a contemporary artist. There is a need to understand how the physical acting needs to be approached today. His work in Poland included collaborating with jugglers, contemporary dancers, physiotherapists, and an array of actors from countries like Spain, US, Switzerland, Czechoslovakia, Greece, and Poland. After two years of intense training and research, he could discover and develop his own style of acting.
During the Basar Confluence, February 2107 he stayed at Basar, a remote village in West Siang District, for more than a month to direct a play titled, ‘Tani La Mopin’ which showcased the story of the origin of Mopin, the goddess of agriculture. The play was performed by local villagers. An open invitation was given to villagers without any prerequisites with the intent that those who would like to act, despite their age, should have an opportunity to express themselves.
People of different age groups showed interest to act and the play was designed to accommodate everyone from 13 to 60-year-olds. The 25 locals who showed interest in the play were trained rigorously in physical exercises, expressions and emoting themselves before even the main play was conceived. The theatre training team consisted of theatre professionals Rili Ngomle, Shiva Prasad Tumu, Antz Luxsnai, Dorjee Wangdi, Yumnu Yomgam, Loitongbam Paringanba.
He is currently working on recreating the magic of local folk tales of Arunachal as the use local languages and stories is getting rare as there is a growing influence of Bollywood and Hollywood. Young children today are mostly speaking in Hindi at an alarming rate, as this would mean they are not interested in their own cultures.
The dwindling use of local languages is also coupled by the fact that there is no written script of these languages. There is barely enough documentation to save them or undo the decreasing use. Every tribe has a different version of folktale and different folk tales as well and they also don’t pass on from one generation to another, in the same way, there are alterations that keep happening in oral traditions.
Riken concern seems appropriate when he says, “I am trying to keep the old stories intact before they get further lost in narration through plays so that the coming generations are not totally unaware of their traditions.”
According to him, there are very few people in Arunachal who are into theatre. Even if people are attempting theatre it’s mostly an adaptation of Shakespeare or some modern Indian drama like Mohan Rakesh or Vijay Tendulkar.
“What makes me stand out is that I am taking plays from the roots of Arunachal and showcasing them to the world.”
Riken is trying to bring in change through theatre among the youth as it is not only a medium of entertainment but also one of the strongest medium of expression and propagating knowledge. He emphasizes that he is very particular about the quality of theatre and very inclusive of folk dances and other traditions to revive the identity.
“I dream that one day Arunachali theatre will have its own space in the mention of Indian theatre,” says Riken.
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