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Onward march: Actors from the Assamese troupe Dapon. Pradeep Gaur/Mint

Onward march: Actors from the Assamese troupe Dapon. Pradeep Gaur/Mint

It’s not just drama

It’s not just drama

Temthoush “Max" Pirky, an arts student at Tangla College in Udalguri, Assam, had his first stage appearance this January in Delhi. While that isn’t a big deal for many college students, for Max, 22, it came after three years of counselling and training. Max is pretty much like everyone except for one thing: At 3ft 5 inches, he doesn’t feel much like everyone else.

Max is part of Dapon (The Mirror), an Assamese theatre group’s training project for dwarfs, started by theatreperson Pabitra Rabha in Tangla in 2008. Their first production, Kino Kao, was staged at the National School of Drama’s (NSD’s) Bharat Rang Mahotsav in Delhi in January—a product of three years of intensive coaching. The play is a critique of modern society that shuts out marginalized groups, including, but not limited to, dwarfs. Kino Kao is Assamese for “What to say?"

Onward march: Actors from the Assamese troupe Dapon. Pradeep Gaur/Mint

Three years ago, none of these stories would have been out in the public domain. Rabha, who graduated in 2003 from the NSD with a specialization in acting, says the process of getting this group to act on stage has been a difficult one. To address his concerns with marginzalized groups, Rabha went back to Assam in 2003 to use theatre as an instrument for social change.

“At first, they didn’t even want to come out of their homes," says Rabha. “Many of us don’t treat them humanely, and over generations, this attitude has rubbed off on them. They have an inferiority complex."

Rabha started out by going into homes, talking to prospective actors and drawing them out. This continued for three years, and finally culminated in a 45-day workshop where a group of 30 dwarfs from all over Assam assembled through word-of-mouth in Tangla.

On the first day, there was stunned silence. “Because of their isolation, many dwarfs don’t know others like them. The first day at the workshop, there were reactions like ‘I haven’t met anyone as small as me’ or ‘I didn’t know there were so many of us’," says Rabha, who chose to work with dwarfs as they are a marginalized group.

Over the first week, the magic of theatre took over. The new actors—most of whom work from home—were compensated for their losses during the period (Rs 200 a day), thanks to the funding Rabha got from the Bodo Autonomous Development Council.

“The experience of sharing their stories as a collective gave them immense confidence. And great friendships were formed," says Rabha. “Now, you can’t get them to shut up," he adds, laughing.

Because this is an ongoing project, the medium of theatre is critical to its success. “Had this been a film, it would have been produced and it would have ended right there," says Rabha. “The fact that it’s a play, allows it to be a continuous process of healing for the actors." He plans to rope in more people with time.

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