Manipur Dramatic Union
Manipur Dramatic Union (MDU) is the oldest theatre group of Manipur, a state in northeastern India. The group was established on 15 March 1931. In its more than 80 years of existence, the group has presented a number of plays.
Manipur's performances ranged from various dances performed during ‘Lai Haraoba’ to ‘Raas’, ‘Goura Lila’, ‘Gostha’ etc. During the time of Maharaj Chandrakirti, performers of burlesques received royal patronage. But those performances were without proper script or structure. The main objective was to entertain the audience with their histrionics or plain banality. After the British took over Manipur in 1891, there was a lull for more than 10 years. It is generally believed that the then Maharaj Churachand, on returning from his studies outside Manipur took keen interest in performing art forms, especially after his exposure to plays outside Manipur. The first play with proper script was "Pravas Milan" staged in 1903 and was entirely in Bengali language with Manipuri actors. It was the first proscenium play of Manipur. The next play was "Pagalini" in 1905, which was a Manipuri translation of a Bengali play. In the subsequent years, a strong wave of theatre emerged in Manipur. Various schools used to present dramas on the occasion of Saraswati Pujah. One play among them was "Partha Parajay" (1915). More translated plays followed suit.
In 1925, Lairenlakpam Ibungohal Singh wrote the first original Manipuri play "Narsing". It was staged for the first time on 30 September 1925 at the mandap of Govindajee Temple. This play was later presented by many groups of theatre enthusiasts, students all over the state.
As a continuing process of thetheatre movement in Manipur, some theatre lovers viz, (1) Sorokhaibam Lalit Singh, (2) Chingakham Mayurdhaja Singh, (3) Hijam Irabot Singh, (4) Khomdram Dhanachandra Singh, (5) Nongmaithem Tombi Singh and (6) Ngangbam Shyamkishore Singh grouped together to form a theatre organization with the name ‘Yaishkul Nipamacha School Drama Party’. All the members excepting Kh. Dhanachandra were from Yaiskul area. Later the name was changed ‘Meitei Dramatic Union’. In order to encompass more theatre lovers cutting across community line, the name was later changed to ‘Manipur Dramatic Union’ (MDU). The first play to be presented by MDU was ‘Areppa Marup’ on 15 March 1931. It was written and directed by S. Lalit Singh. Its first show was funded by Maharajkumari Tamphasana Devi. This was followed by ‘Sati Khongnang’ (1931) (MK Binodini in her book "Churachand Maharaj gee Emung" wrote that MK Tamphasana wanted to record "Sati Khongnang" play and had even called S. Lalit for discussion in this regard. Unfortunately, Tamphasana died before any steps could be taken up). MDU started staging ‘ticket plays’ on a regular basis. Initially, an outhouse of Nangbam Shyamkishore, which also happened to be the maternal home of Queen Dhanamanjuri was used as the theatre space. MDU received good royal patronage. But Queen Dhanamanjuri strongly objected to ‘ticket plays’ at her own maternal home as it would belittle her prestige. Owing to this, the venue shifted to a corner of the plot of Chingakham Mayurdhaja. Hijam Irabot took active role in construction of a stage there. He also designed the emblem of MDU, which is a cross-plough. Irabot was also an actor. In a scene from the play "Areppa Marup", he was acting as a person, who was in desperate need of a sum of Rs. 200/-. So he mouthed the dialogue "lupa channi…" (Rs. two hundred) again and again on the stage. Maharaj Churachand, who was in the audience shouted "hey nunggi lupa channi do eingondagi louro!" (take your Rs. two hundred from me!).
In the year 1937 a plot of land was allotted to MDU at Yaiskul Police Lane and a semi-pucca hall was constructed there. This structure was dismantled in 1985 and construction of a new pucca building commenced, which has remained incomplete till date. MDU continued with its presentation of highly successful plays like "Devala Devi" (1932), "Savitri" (1933), "Karna Arjun" (1934) etc. The director of MDU, S. Lalit Singh brought a completely new perspective and style to theatre techniques. Previously, it was a convention for actors not to show their back to the audience. Also, it was quite common to deliver dialogues in high pitch (vir ras), banging their feet again and again on stage floor. Even a part of the stage used to be fitted with types of wood which produce loud sound when banged by foot! But S. Lalit changed all these and brought about a more realistic and scientific acting style. Renowned actor/ director (L) Chandam Gopal, who had acted as Bilamangol in "Bhakta Bilamangol" once said that for delivering a dialogue with only 2 words- " ah rakhal!", Lalit taught him the syllables that were to be delivered while inhaling/ exhaling, pauses etc. along with appropriate emotions. However hard Gopal had tried, he could not perfect it in most of the cases.
The theatre journey was interrupted in 1942, due to 2nd World War. Allied troops occupied the hall during the war. After the war, MDU continued to stage plays once again from 1945 after the end of WW2. An outcome of the occupation of the hall by allied troops was its electrification. Since then, MDU is continuously presenting a number of plays. In fact, the first play on Tikendrajit was presented in 1949. It was discontinued after some shows and was revived in 2002. In the year 1954, MDU’s folk play "Haorang Leisang Saphabee" won the Best Play Award (Folk Category) at National Drama Festival, New Delhi. It was the first play from Manipur to have won an award at national level.
During the 1950s and 1960s, MDU presented many memorable plays, majority of which were folk, historical or mythological. Notable among them are "Tonu Laijinglembi"(1956), "Ningol" (Chapter 1 &2, 1956 &57), "Shakuntala" (1957), "Kege Lamja" (1958), "Ramer Sumati" (1958), "Alexander" (1963) and "Meitei Khungang" (1969). Some actors came to be recognized by their roles. L. Thambalngoubi, who had acted as Shakuntala was nicknamed "Shakuntala shabi". Similarly, H. Thambal Sharma was nicknamed Alexander as he had played that character.
From 1970, MDU focused on social plays. Some memorable social plays, post 1970 are "Shutti" (1972), "Mangluraba Mani" (1973), "Mamou Ibemma" (1985), "Lonthoktabagi Wari" (1986), "Lonnabi Macha" (1987), "Lamyanba Irabot" (1996), "Shunnugi Mahao" (1998), "Amanba Yum" (2000), "Eikhoi Pabung Peng Choire" (2008) and "Kamala" (2009).
Till March 2012, MDU has produced 198 long plays of various categories and 34 short plays in experimental format (total of 232 plays).
MDU is also noted for its spectacular stage-craft. RK Chandrajitsana Singh more popularly known as RKCS had drawn sceneries, backdrop of buildings, huts trees and various cuts-scenes. The pioneer of stage-craft was Kangabam Lala Singh. Till now, many theatre lovers still recollect the flying of Sudarsan chakra in "Uttara", funeral scene in "Sati Khongnang", buzzing around of bee in "Shakuntala", fissure of wall & crossing of Yamuna river in "Krishna Avtaar", Bishma lying on arrowbed, emerging of Ganga, water fountain coming up to quench Bishma’s thirst in "Kurukshetra", rainfall scenes sans water, gun-fires scenes etc.
Despite the slump in viewership, MDU is continuing to produce at least 2 new long plays, 1 short play every year. Also, the group stages "Tikendrajit" on 13 August, "Krishna Avataar" on Janmsatami and "Lamyanba Irabot" on 30 September every year.
- Pre 2nd World War Theatre in Manipur, ed. Y. Sadananda &Y. Munindro, Panthoibi Natya Mandir, 1999.
- Manipur Dramatic Union, Ngarang Amashung Ngashi, ed Telem Upendra, MDU 2000.
- 100 Years of Manipuri Proscenium Arch Theatre, ed. L. Damodar, Dr. Lokendra Arambam, Dr. N. Premchand, Dept. of Art & Culture, Govt. of Manipur, 2002.
- MDU-Platinum Jubilee Souvenir, ed. B. Jayantakumar Sharma, MDU, 2006.