Dissertation Abstracts

Mobile Theatre of Assam: A Study of Publics

Author: Rituparna Patgiri , missrituparnapatgiri@gmail.com
Department: Centre for the Study of Social Systems (CSSS)
University: Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), India
Supervisor: Maitrayee Chaudhuri
Year of completion: In progress
Language of dissertation: English

Areas of Research: Local-Global Relations , Arts , Leisure


Mobile theatre groups comprise of a combination of actors, singers, dancers, directors, action artists, makeup artists, workers, and the producer. These theatre troops travel across the state, performing their plays and what makes them unique is that they carry all the necessary equipment with them, ranging from stage material to props. Mobile theatre is one of the most widespread forms of entertainment in Assam. Almost 150-160 mobile theatre groups have come into being in Assam since the first one was started in the 1920s. Around 60 theatre groups perform their plays all over the state presently. These numbers keep changing as many groups close down and new ones start. What these approximate figures clearly show is the widespread popularity of mobile theatre in Assam. This popularity is also very visible, as there are posters, hoardings, and signboards of various theatre groups all across the state. My research looks at the reasons that have kept mobile theatre of Assam thriving in today’s world. It is the biggest revenue earning industry as well as the most popular form of entertainment in Assam. This is in contrast to the decline of theatre in the rest of India. Most producers of mobile theatre groups argue that it is the people that have made mobile theatre what it is today. The plays are of mixed genres - commercial, historical, religious, social, and as such appeals to every category of the audience. My research on the mobile theatre of Assam suggests that it occupies features of both a counter-public and is part of the larger Assamese public culture. It is often seen as an assertion of Assamese identity in the face of increasing globalization. Yet, at the same time, it has adapted itself to the commercial demands of the time by using the latest technologies and content. It can be read as a counter-public, articulating in some sense a non-elite culture, where members of subordinated social groups are dominant. For mobile theatre has great reach and popularity in rural and suburban areas. It has thrived on the feeling of ‘community’ and ‘collective’ that is still present in villages and towns of Assam. For instance, when theatre troops travel from one part of the state to the other, many artists and technicians are housed by the natives of that place in their homes. There is little separation between the performers and the audience. Yet it is not quite a counter-public as they do not necessarily invent and circulate counter-discourses to formulate oppositional interpretations of their identities and interests.