24 March,2023 09:59 AM IST | Mumbai | Suprita Mitter
A moment from the play Pah-Lak
The stage often becomes the medium to voice opinions, raise concerns and even protest. With bold lines or subtle messaging, artistes over the years have used music, dance, storytelling and theatre to make their point. In a similar fashion, a Tibetan play called Pah-Lak (the term for father in the language) aims to narrate the story of modern Tibet and the role Buddhism plays in the lives of its people, today. The play was first conceptualised by Indian theatre director and playwright Abhishek Majumdar who developed it through rigorous research which included interviews with the Tibetan community in exile - monks, nuns, and His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama.
"Before this play, I worked on other productions related to freedom struggles, including a trilogy set in Kashmir, and another about the role of women in the Sri Lankan freedom movement. I was intrigued that all these movements were forced to become violent, although they began as non-violent movements. Today, non-violent movements aren*t in the limelight. The Tibetan movement is a complex, long-running movement. It is a Buddhist struggle, which is different from having a struggle in the name of religion. If one doesn*t understand Buddhism it is impossible to understand how one can remain non-violent inside Tibet," shares Majumdar. "HH The Dalai Lama graciously spent an hour with me and read the rough draft of the script. Some of my research was critical of his policies about Tibet, and he was most welcoming of that," he reveals. The play looks beyond this movement as being Tibet*s alone. "It should matter to the world. Tibetans have stuck to this for years, unlike the models that the rest of us have set up. What happens if the non-violent movement fails?"
The play premiered on April 3, 2019 at Royal Court Theatre, London supported by Reimagine India and Arts Council England. The writer and the Royal Court of London faced opposition from the Chinese government and British press, but managed to go ahead. At the time, only South Asian actors (not Tibetan performers) were cast in the play. After this, Tibetan director and head of Tibet Theatre, Lhakpa Tsering, and German theatre director Harry Fuhrmann, in collaboration with Majumdar, released a production of Pah-Lak, translated into the Tibetan language by Lhakpa, with the help of Tibetan actors and musicians.
This amateur contemporary theatre group is the first of its kind within the exile community. Traditional Tibetan theatre is in the form of opera. The stories are about Buddhism, peace, scholars and kings, mainly from India. This play has opera movements, music and elements of Tibetan drama.
"I was with Abhishek when he started writing the play. He wanted the story to be told by the community in exile," recalls Tsering who believes that staging the play by Tibetans in the native language has more benefits than meets the eye. "It helps preserve our language, culture and identity through theatre. Often, the audience is not even aware of the fact that Tibet has a language of its own. When they watch the play, we want them to return home knowing that. They understand most of the play through actions and subtitles."
Tsering has been an integral part of the non-violent resistance in Tibet. On November 26, 2006, he self-immolated in front of the Gateway Of India, when Chinese President Hu Jintao visited India. This was in protest against the Communist government*s oppressive measures in Tibet. "The Dalai Lama says that even if you win after violence, it*s a loss. Mother nature and other people are more important. So, we hurt ourselves instead of others."
The production is scheduled to tour Europe in May and June 2023. According to Tsering, this is the first Tibetan play by Tibetans on an international stage and will be the largest-ever Tibetan theatre tour.
On: On March 25; 7 pm
At: Experimental Theatre, NCPA, Nariman Point.
Log on to: in.bookmyshow.com
Cost: Rs 500 onwards