Niranjan Goswami waves away the comment – No, he says, he is not the pioneer of mime theatre in the country. He does agree, however, that he's developed techniques that give it an Indian touch, as he sits in the office of the secretary of Bharat Bhavan in Thiruvananthapuram, Pramod Payyannur, a former student of his, hours ahead of his performance on Friday evening.
The first national mime fest in Kerala, Echoes of Silence, will be inaugurated Friday evening in Thiruvananthapuram by minister AK Balan. Padmasree Niranjan Goswami, who founded the Indian Mime Theatre, will be facilitated. So would two other prominent mime artistes, Dr Y Sadananda Singh from Manipur and Vilas Janve from Rajasthan.
“So many developments have come since the time I started in the 1960s. I was a school student when I first saw a mime performance and it had stayed in my mind. One person not uttering a single word but communicating the whole thing. I saw more artistes in college and I just copied it. We had a juvenile organisation then and I showed the seniors a mime performance. They gave me 10 minutes to perform at a three-day festival. Those 10 minutes made my life. Everyone liked it, encouraged me. It was first a hobby but then it became a profession. I was so devoted to it, I gave all my time to it, my life itself,” says Niranjan.
Born in the Dhaka district of Bengal, now a part of Bangladesh, Niranjan soon realised the potential that mime had in a multilingual country like India. He could take his art anywhere in the country and still be able to communicate. There would be no language barrier.
He was criticised at first when people told him that the art of mime originated in Europe. Niranjan then went on to study the Natyashastra and developed his own techniques. He travelled across the country, watching performing arts, incorporating elements of it into his art form. He spent time in Kerala too, at the Kalamandalam in Cheruthuruthy. “I would study the training method from morning to evening. It was a rainy July in 1980. From the Kathakali centre I would go to the Kudiyattam centre and watch how they communicate with mudras and all. I then went to Guruvayoor to watch the Krishnanattam, I watched the performances of artistes like Mani Madhava Chakyar and Ammannur Madhava Chakyar (Koodiyattam) and Kalamandalam Krishnan Nair (Kathakali). But I didn’t want to be a Kathakali artiste. I just adapted.”
He chose contemporary subjects for his performances. He also adapted poetry, folktales and Tagore short stories. At the Kerala mime festival, he will be performing a production called Umbrella. “At one point we are under the umbrella of our parents, at another point, our children are under ours. It is about bringing different groups under one umbrella. It can be a weapon too,” he says.
The popularity of mime, he says, has come up with competitions and performances at school and colleges. “There are scholarships for mime artistes, fellowships and salary grants. And it keeps developing. It is not the form that mime artistes like Marcel Marceau performed in the days after World War 2. He got the idea after watching a Charlie Chaplin movie – how would it be if it was shown on a stage. He performed all over the world. But no one practices that form any longer. New experiments keep happening.”
The mime festival will end on May 12.