Assamese Theatre Doyen Ratan Lahkar : Life and Work

These past few weeks have been black ones indeed for the world of stage, as few could have foreseen that soon after mourning the loss of eminent theatre actress Bina Prasad and Mancha Surya Dharani Barman, the theatre world would suffer a further terrible blow by the demise of Ratan Lahkar, the architect of modern mobile theatre movement of the State.

Ratan Lahkar was an accomplished producer, the original large-scale producer of mobile theatre in the truest sense, who has been able to stretch the boundaries of traditional theatrical convention.

Although the world of his theatre lived on in the traditional culture and heritage, yet at the same time, he diverged from the pedestrian, formulaic language to stage epics like the ‘Ramayana’, the ‘Mahabharata’, ‘Hamlet’ and ‘Cleopatra, which altogether elevated the status of mobile theatre. He was instrumental in adding the glamour quotient in the mobile theatre industry. He was a visionary theatrical maverick, who inspired a kind of artistic courage and idealism in everyone who met him. He goaded a number of aspiring mobile theatre artistes, writers and technicians to take their craft seriously. It cannot be ruled out that mobile theatre is permeated with financial interests and considerations, but Ratan Lahkar was inspired enough to stage socially relevant plays, plays that addressed the social mores and issues that common grapple with their everyday lives, which have in addition to attaining critical approval have also achieved considerable commercial successes. He did compromised vision in order to placate audiences. The influence of Hollywood blockbusters did show up when he staged Titanic’ and the ‘Dinosoror Atonko’, which were overwhelming successes. It also resulted in a challenge for the established conventions of mobile theatre. Theatre audiences gradually depleted when it came to ordinary plays.

A gregarious individual by nature, who loved cracking jokes, he was once a close confidante and companion to my father, noted litterateur Pabitra Kumar Deka. He was a frequent visitor to our home, whenever he was in town playing host to his theatre troupe Kohinoor. Their mutual admiration culminated in the birth of ‘Naginir Amrit Dangshan’, an extraordinarily successful play penned by my father that resulted in a record theatrical run in 1991, and which forever altered the course of mobile theatre. Over the years, the troupe had breezed through various genres, whether its social dramas, epics, fantasies, adventures, comedies, literary classics, even hollywood blockbusters, etal, with an extraordinary track record of success.

Most importantly, Kohinoor stretched mobile theatre’s acknowledged boundaries and took it to all strata of people. He elevated the level of drama by introducing Assam’s famous litterateurs to pen thoughtful plays exclusively for mobile theatre which was indicative of his troupe’s quality productivity. Lahkar collaborated a lot with renowned playwrights like Mahendra Borthakur and Hemanta Dutta. He always thought out of the box, but within the confines of mobile theatre. He was the first theatre producer to introduce popular movie stars like Prashanta Hazarika, Ela Kakati among others on mobile stage at the peak of their popularity. Like his affinity for Shakespearean dramas, Lahkar also attracted audiences by producing quality social productions like ‘Baghjaal’, ‘Matir Gari’, ‘Ganga-Jamuna’, among others. No wonder that a good many theatrical troupes patterned themselves after Kohinoor Theatre. Despite the frenetic pace of his life that offered little time for introspection, Lahkar somehow found time to record his thoughts and experiences in diaries, newspapers and journals.

Theatre became a primary affiliation of Ratan Lahkar since he was very little. He was an exceptional performer on stage proving himself on several occasions when he acted in drama presentations by different socio-cultural organizatiions like Muguria Bhatri Sangha, Pathsala Pragati Sangha, Natymandir, etc, during his adolescent years. Interestingly, he played female characters in the first four dramatic portrayals of his life.

Starting his primary education in Rampur LP School, Lahkar went on to complete his BA from Cotton College in 1964 and MA in Political Science from the University of Saugor – now the Dr. Hari Singh Gour University, in 1967. In 1971, Lahkar acted on his desires and in earnest took up a career in professional acting with Purbajyoti Theatre, a troupe ran by Karunakanta Majumdar, and headquartered in Hajo, with the help of Rudra Choudhury on a salary of Rs 400 per month. Later he made his entry into Nataraj Theatre on request by Achyut Lahkar. He also came in close proximity with famous theatre personalities like Bishnu Rabha, Phani Sarma.

His strong organisational skills and leadership qualities convinced him to produce his own theatre troupe. He founded the Kohinoor Theatre with Krishna Roy in 1976. Kohinoor soon became a leading mobile theatre group under his stewardship. Lahkar introduced double and triple acting on stage.

Kohinoor Theatre is the only Assamese mobile theatre group that performed outside the state at the National School of Drama in the year 2010. Lahkar was honored with the Atul Chandra Hazarika Award, Saradakanta Bordoloi Award and Leo Expo Award. He was also conferred with the Mancharatna Award in 2016 by the Assam government.

Lahker even acted in the only movie of his career –  Prodyut Kumar Deka’s ‘Samiran Barua Ahi Ase’ in 2012.

Soon after receiving the news of his demise, local people and members of various organizations thronged his residence ‘Darshak’ and prayed for the eternal peace of the departed soul.

Ratan Lahkar has passed away but his legacy will live on. He leaves behind his wife Jyoti Lahkar and sons Tapan and Pranab Lahkar.

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