ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Sukracharjya Rabha (1977–2018)

Empowering Community through Theatre in Assam

Sukracharjya Rabha, a visionary theatre practitioner, established the Badungduppa Kalakendra in a remote village at Rampur and was also the director of the well-known “Under the Sal Tree” annual theatre festival. His theatre practice that was rooted materially, economically and ecologically at the heart of an indigenous community, creates a distinctly different political economy, which departs radically from previous attempts by the exponents of the “Theatre of Roots” movement to indigenise theatre in India and formulates a critique of it.

The author would like to express here his gratitude to the anonymous reviewer/referee, whose suggestions led him to achieve greater clarity on the structure and methodology of his article.

It seems almost unreal now that in December 2017, I was at the Badungduppa Kalakendra situated at a remote village called Rampur in Assam with theatre practitioner Sukracharjya Rabha. I was witnessing with a degree of circumspection the unveiling of the statue of Heisnam Kanhailal (1941–2016) by his wife and revered actress Sabitri Heisnam. The ceremony marked the commencement of “Under the Sal Tree” theatre festival for that year. Sukracharjya, the festival director, was standing right beside Heisnam, in front of the statue, supervising every detail with a watchful eye and a characteristic penchant for perfection. My unease ensued from pondering over the politics of idolising. Though acquainted with the profound impact that Kanhailal’s theater practice had on Indian theatre or on Sukracharjya’s in particular, I still wondered whether such idolising would inhibit Sukracharjya’s future creative and institutional endeavours. Little did I know then that just in a matter of months such ponderings would be rendered absolutely invalid, for there will be no future to ponder upon. On the unfortunate night of 9 June 2018, Sukracharjya would pass away in a sudden and massive heart attack.

It indeed has been a disastrous couple of years for theatre in India. In the span of little more than two years (2016–18), we have lost two of its revolutionary visionaries: Heisnam Kanhailal and Sukracharjya Rabha. I believe, it is impossible not to think of these two huge losses in tandem. After all, it is not only that these two visionaries shared among them a similar philosophy, politics and a steadfast commitment towards theatre, but also shared a personal connection—Sukracharjya by his own acknowledgement, being the disciple of Kanhailal. However, I also believe that it is Sukracharjya’s loss, which is bound to hurt more and longer and prove more difficult to heal. This is because the theatre practice and the theater festival—Under the Sal Tree—which Sukracharjya was developing at Badungduppa Kalakendra, Rampur, Assam was supposed to take forward the theatre movement Kanhailal had initiated at Kalakshetra. When Kanhailal passed away, we lost a pioneer, but we had the consolation of him leaving behind a mature body of work and a legacy of dedicated theatre workers, at the forefront of which I believe was Sukracharjya. But with his untimely demise, we lose the future in the present. He leaves his work at Badungduppa at an inopportune juncture when his matured guidance seems indispensable. He also leaves without having ample time and opportunity to pass the baton to the future generation.

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Updated On : 27th Nov, 2019
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