Traveling theater groups in India's northeastern state of Assam are reviving the local art and culture scene after the COVID-19 pandemic forced a pause in their performances for a year and a half.
Actors of the Awahan Theater perform in a dance drama at Xetali village east of Gauhati, India, April 6, 2022.
Seven roving theater companies are back on stage playing before crowds in villages, towns and cities across the state. These mobile theaters are among the most popular forms of local entertainment.
A member of the Awahan Theater group offers a prayer to the Hindu god Natraj before a performance at Xetali village east of Gauhati, India, April 6, 2022.
“The public response has been very good. They love live performances. We have no competition from television and the digital boom,” said Prastuti Parashar, a top Assamese actress who owns the Awahan Theater group.
An actor of the Awahan traveling theater group puts her makeup on before going on stage at Xetali village east of Gauhati, India, April 6, 2022.
Before the coronavirus hit the region, about 50 theater groups, each involving 120 to 150 people, performed throughout the state. They would start in September, coinciding with major Hindu festivals like Durga Puja and Diwali, and continue until April.
Actors of a traveling theater group prepare before going on stage at Xetali village east of Gauhati, India, April 6, 2022.
Drama is an integral part of Indian culture and the mobile theater groups don’t restrict themselves to mythological and social themes. They have in the past covered classic Greek tragedies, Shakespearean tales and historical subjects like the sinking of the Titanic, Lady Diana and Osama bin Laden’s attack on the World Trade Center in 2001.
People buy tickets for a performance by Awahan traveling theater at Xetali, east of Gauhati, India, April 7, 2022.
The groups travel with directors, actors, dancers, singers, technicians, drivers and cooks, in addition to all the stage infrastructure, to perform three shows in one place before moving on to the next makeshift venue – like a circus show. The performances feature many of the state’s top actors, including Bhabesh Baruah, Tapan Das, Mridul Bhuyan and Pranjana Dutta.
Makeup kits of actors of the Awahan traveling theater lie on a table at Xetali village east of Gauhati, India, April 6, 2022.
During the pandemic-related pause in live theater, some artists and musicians tried their luck in television or digital content, two industries that have depressed the market for movies in Assam.
A volunteer arranges chairs inside a tent for a performance by the Awahan Theater at Xetali village east of Gauhati, India, April 6, 2022.