Master of mime

DECCAN CHRONICLE. | ELIZABETH THOMAS
Published May 11, 2019, 12:00 am IST
Updated May 11, 2019, 12:03 am IST
In 1976, he established the Indian Mime Theatre with an aim to popularise the art form.
Niranjan Goswami
 Niranjan Goswami

Back in 1960s, when little Niranjan stumbled upon a mime performance, he didn’t imagine that it would later become his life. Padma Shri Niranjan Goswami, who is in Thiruvananthapuram to take part in the ongoing national mime festival Echoes of Silence, says he was intrigued by the strength and depth of the art form. “It is a powerful weapon,” says the artiste, who breathes mime. “Quite accidentally I ventured into it. I saw it on stage and liked it. I was fascinated by the way the artiste on stage conveyed his thought to the audience, without uttering a single word,” he recalls.

Mime artiste and Padma Shri Niranjan Goswami talks about following his passion, getting inspired from Kerala art forms and his latest production Umbrella.

 

Since then, mime has been his life. From a hobby, it turned out to be a passion for him. It was not an easy journey, though. People were not much aware of the art form and often equated it with caricature and mimicry. Niranjan says it was a task for him to convince his family and go for it. “I had to tell them the difference between all these,” he says.

In 1976, he established the Indian Mime Theatre with an aim to popularise the art form. He came up with productions such as Towards a New Life, The Dowry Death, The Patriotism, Internal, A Girl from Golden Village, Key to Happiness, A Mess House and The Labour,  discussing relevant subjects. He strived hard to release the mime from the clutches of European influence by developing the indigenous style Mukabhinaya. “That time, mime was criticised for copying European style. Then, we developed Mukabhinaya, which is based on Bharata Muni’s Natyasastra. We made exclusive methods,” says Niranjan.

To take mime to the public, the Indian Mime Theatre organises workshops, demonstrations and national and international mime festivals. Now, Niranjan has set up a National Mime Institute in Kolkata for aspiring artistes. “We have a research wing where our students experiment in mime. A young talent scholarship is also given to those who want to learn about mime,” he explains.     

He goes on to say that Kerala’s Kathakali has been a great source of inspiration to him. He mentions that his first visit to Kerala was to learn about Kathakali and Koodiyattam. “It was in 1980. I came to Kerala Kalamandalam as part of a study tour sponsored by the Sangeet Natak Academy, New Delhi. I travelled across the State then,” he recollects. The memory of meeting exponents such as Kalamandalam Krishnan Nair is crystal clear in his mind. And, he admits that understanding Kathakali and Koodiyattam and interacting with veterans widened his perspective about art. “We didn’t copy the forms, but they have been a great influence.”   

In Echoes of Silence, his team performed their production Umbrella, which uses umbrella as a symbol. “It is the story of a common man who uses umbrella as a weapon and shelter. It is a part of his life. The play takes audience through various incidents in this man’s life,” says Niranjan, who believes mime is the essence of life.

In his opinion, everyone uses mime in their daily life. And, every production is a challenge. “It is because we are trying something new. There are two things we have to take care of — content and form. Sometimes, the content strikes us first and we later develop the form, or vice versa. Anyway, it is a new kind of act, and you have to design it in a particular manner,” he says. “We choose subjects that hit us. We also adapt poems and short stories to mime,” he adds.  

Niranjan also stresses on the fact of moulding one’s talent. “It is applicable to any art form. Every person is talented. However, one has to fine-tune it. Then only he or she will be able to achieve or reach a position in life.” And, the idea has to be original, he asserts. “I always encourage young people to bring out original ideas. Then only they can become exceptional,” he says. That is what he does in his establishment.  

Ask him, how being honoured with Padma award has changed his life, with a laugh he says, “It brought me recognition. People became aware of me and the art form I represent. Before that, I had won the Sangeet Natak Academy award, but, not many knew about it. That is the difference,” he says and adds that awards helped him popularise mime.  

Niranjan is also happy to see the way mime is developing, and young talents foraying into it. “It is a classical art form though its subjects are contemporary. It is difficult to master mime that communicates through actions, expressions and rhythm. Timing is the most important factor in it.  You need proper training to learn it,” says Niranjan.  

The staging of Umbrella took place at Bharat Bhavan, Thycaud, on May 10.

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