Originally from Tangla, a small town in Assam’s Odalguri district, 36-year-old Pabitra Rabha is a postgraduate diploma holder in acting from the National School of Drama (NSD) with a couple of interesting profiles — actor, director, set designer, musician and a social worker — to count on.
After a brief stint in Bollywood and having acted in a few Kannada movies and one French movie, Rabha is back in Tangla to bring about a social revolution through the medium of theatre.
Homecoming and setting up of Dapoon-The Mirror
Rabha believes that with the sparse opportunities that Tangla has, his experience can give back a lot to his place and people.
“If after getting so much exposure and knowledge, I don’t help my people out here (amidst whom there are many more like me or even better), [it] will be an injustice. Moreover, if based at Tangla itself I am acting in Hindi, French or Kannada movies, then why this need to go to Bollywood?” said Rabha, sharing his thoughts.
Once back, he started his own theatre group, Dapoon-The Mirror at Tangla. Its main objective is to nurture talents (both physically and mentally), so that the youth and children can pay attention to cultural activities even in an unstable social condition.
On working with dwarves
Dapoon has also initiated programmes (theatre and vocational) for dwarves and will very soon take up projects for the elderly people. Unprecedented as it was, it raised many questions.
Rabha says, “Why not dwarves? They are humans, just like you and I. Apart from being used as jokers or clowns in various circus groups, they have had a limited exposure to the outside world and most of their lives they have lived in oblivion.”
But when someone lives a life with the taboo of being a social burden, it is difficult to make them come out of it. When Rabha approached the families of the dwarves’ for the programme, the educated ones readily agreed, but some of the parents were still skeptical. They thought it is just another way to make fun of them and their children. It took a lot of persuasion, to make them send their children to the workshop. Today, they don’t regret their decision.
Kinu Kow (What to say) was the first play directed by Pabitra Rabha with dwarf artists playing all the characters. It was based on the real life struggle and dreams of the dwarves and earned a lot of appreciation.
On Aamaar Gaon
Apart from generating a theatre tide in Tangla, Dapoon has also conceptualised a complete shelter home for the dwarves, named as Aamaar Gaon (‘our village’).
“There are schemes for the physically challenged, orphans and the elderly, but for the dwarves, there isn’t any. Neither the government recognises them as physically challenged, nor does the society accept them as normal. Aamaar Gaon is a humble effort to show my respect to these highly creative people. This will be their village, where they will never feel alienated or isolated,” explained Rabha.
This humanitarian effort earned him the CNN-IBN Real Hero Award in 2011.
“An award for doing something that you truly believe in, always adds more responsibility, and infuses more confidence as it tells you that what you are doing is correct. I thank the organisers for the award, but I have a long way to go,” he said.
Conflict and creativity
Conflicts have always hindered work, despite the best of intentions. But they also say that conflicts bring out the best of creativity. Rabha admits that the conflicts taking place in the Northeast have had an impact on his creativity too. It gets difficult to call in guest faculties from NSD due to security reasons or a show gets cancelled due to bandhs. But despite all that, he feels that he has been able to draw a lot of youths to his workshops.
“Theatre is not only a means of entertainment, but it is also a way of creating employment generation and social awareness. I am working more with the children and youths so that the generation next thinks in a more creative way and realises that life is much more than the ‘guns’ they have seen so far. A stable society is what I am trying to achieve through the various theatre workshops and I hope someday these efforts will erase the taboo of conflict from our place,” he further added.
The actor speaks
Though he has a bag of different experiences, Rabha is primarily an actor. He has worked with Bollywood directors like Mani Shankar (Tango Charlie and Mukhbir) and Sashi Kumar (Kaya Taran and Sahia) and also with Kannada director Nagavaran
in Chigurida Kanashu. In June 2012, his maiden international project, Alexandra David Neel — a French movie directed by Joel Forge — also hit the silver screen. He plays the role of an Indian guide who tours along with a Belgian-French explorer/spiritualist/ Buddhist writer during her visit to India in the 1890.
“Working with the French production was great. What I enjoyed most is the minute detailing and thorough professionalism,” said the actor.
Rabha has worked in theatre, television and films and he feels that all three come with challenges of their own.
“Acting in front of a camera and performing live are challenging. In a movie or a serial as you have the luxury of retakes; in a stage though, the final show counts the most. But, in both the cases, one needs to be a good actor first,” he further added.
Currently working with Arup Manna (of Aideo fame) in his next Assamese venture, Rabha feels that less homework and lack of team work is a huge reason for the Assamese film industry, lagging far behind other film industries.
“There should be the ‘zero compromise attitude’ in a filmmaker but I feel most of our filmmakers lack in this attitude,” he further added.
Pabitra, the musician
Rabha is also an accomplished musician. Apart from composing music for his plays, he has also been a part of two musical projects: The Rhythm of Forest and The Rhythm of Bordoisila.
The first is an international project — a musical collage as he calls it — where folk instruments of north-east India are played alongside other instruments with international musicians. The latter is also a folk-based musical compilation, where, apart from playing the north-eastern folk instruments, folk dances and songs are also being performed by the artists of Dapoon.
“It is an effort to keep our folk music alive and cater it to a larger audience,” he said.
Unfazed by his popularity, Pabitra Rabha believes in remaining simple throughout his life.
“I want to remain the same forever, talking to you, talking to people and mixing with the crowd. I want to be able to shout at will, cry at will and don’t want to remain at the other side of the tinted glass of car… inside it!” he said.
(Originally published at Eclectic Times- rechristened as Eclectic Northeast- in 2012. The original interview has been uploaded as it is with certain minor grammatical corrections)