The Bard From Imphal

Can what happens in a remote corner of India affect the rest of the world? Ratan Thiyam of Imphal, Manipur ensures that it does through the visual texture of his plays, which are both dream and nightmare.  The renowned director and his 26-member Chorus Repertory


Theater were in the US recently, touring New York, North Carolina, Kansas and California. Nine Hills One Valley is an elaborate tapestry of startling music, movement and imagery that evokes concerns of war and peace and social justice.

“I grew up touring with my parents in my childhood – so you can almost say I was born and brought up in costume boxes and green rooms,” recalls Thiyam of his childhood with his parents who are noted Manipuri dancers. The difficulties of this nomad existence had determined Thiyam never to enter the performing arts, but somehow the performing arts found him. From working as a writer, he moved into theater, going on to become director of the National School of Drama in Delhi.

Later he created his noted repertory company where he expressed the burning issues through performance arts, emphasizing the limited resources and the unrest in his hometown, and by extension, the same griefs and inequities that exist in many parts of the world. As the critic of Frontline put it, ” Thiyam’s visual spectacles have always been unrivaled. It has epic sweep but also becomes as personal as a sonnet. It billows into a universal lament, and warning.”


Indeed, though Nine Hills is in the Manipuri language and uses Manipuri dance and martial art elements, the unsettled state of the world ensures that everyone everywhere can relate to it. Says Thiyam: ” War and terrorism are making a lot of orphans, widows, lot of physically challenged people. Theater is one of the most potent and powerful art forms to express these concerns.”

As he points out, it’s about sharing the emotions and the suffering: “Unless you share it together, there will be nobody to think about it. Without a collective vision, without collective thought about peace as our target, it will be far away,” he says. “There’s a big question mark about what we are leaving behind for future generations. We want to leave them a better, brighter earth and for that we have to work a little bit harder.”

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