Rampur (Assam), Dec 17 (PTI) A theatre festival in a remote Assam village by the Garo Hills could not have asked for a stage more spectacular.

The venue was a forest of sal trees, and the plays were staged without artificial lights or sound.

Nine plays from India and Bangladesh were performed at the three-day ‘Under the Sal Tree Theatre Festival’, which ended today.

Organised by the Badungduppa Kala Kendra, the drama fest was held in Rampur village in Goalpara district, near the Assam-Meghalaya border.

“I have seen a lot of plays in auditoriums. Then I thought of taking theatre to the villages, where nothing happens,” said theatre artiste Sukracharjya Rabha, a disciple of Sangeet Natak Akademi awardee Heisnam Kanhailal and the brain behind the festival, now in its eighth edition.

The festival, with plays performed in natural light and without a sound system, has been gaining global fame. Last year, groups from Brazil, Poland, South Korea and Sri Lanka took part in it.

Rabha, who is from Rampur, readies the venue every year, ensuring that not a single tree is cut for the event.

There is no formal stage for the plays. The actors perform in an open area, against a wall of hay, while the audience sits on multi-tiered bamboo benches.

“In the absence of sophisticated auditoriums in the villages, I realised that we have to do something on our own,” Rabha told PTI here.

Though he accepted that an auditorium and technology were an inseparable part of proscenium theatre, the Assam-based director said these modern elements reminded him of the “colonisation” of society.

“Theatre should live among the people. If we can enact a play under natural circumstances, then it will connect reality and art to our ecological system. This will be our ‘Indianness’ and it will be our own theatre,” Rabha said.

Theatre, he added, should be flexible, not remain stuck in a place and go to the people.

Rabha said the festival gets support from the entire village, some 150 kilometres from Guwahati, as it draws people from across the country. The Kala Kendra charges visitors for food and accommodation.

This year, the eighth such festival, started on December 15. Among the plays was a production from Bangladesh.

The organisers did not have enough funds for a bigger affair this time, Rabha rued.

Though the festival had a budget of Rs 20 lakh and was supported by the Sangeet Natak Akademi and the Cultural Affairs Department of the Assam government, the Badungduppa Kala Kendra has been facing a financial crisis, he said.

Film actor Mahendra Das, who figured in ‘Rock On 2’, is a regular visitor to the festival and appreciates its minimalistic approach.

Das felt the festival also promotes the concept of ‘Theatre Tourism’ in Assam, with people from across the country travelling to the Goalpara village for the shows.

“This festival shows us that a play can be done with minimum expenses with no light and no microphones. Everything is played live here. It is basically a peoples’ festival,” Das said.

This is published unedited from the PTI feed.