The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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In silence, an art that says it all

The silent art of mime is very much alive and kicking, and the revival run is promising not just for the old hands, but the new faces as well. The Indian Mime Theatre (IMT) group in Calcutta is hosting, for the first time this year, a workshop, seminar and festival where the focus is the youth. Gathered from all over the country, 25 young people, including four girls, aged between 18 and 35, from Assam to Andhra Pradesh, Manipur to Maharashtra and Kerala, are collaborating to create a festival.

“Mime began in earnest only about 40 years ago. Other forms of performances, like theatre and dance, had established roots and long traditions by then. Mime began to die out a few years ago, but now the scene is much better. At present, we have 17 collaborative groups around the country who are always doing something,” says Niranjan Goswami, director of IMT.

It’s full steam ahead for the young group, gearing up for the first National Young Mime Artists Summer Festival from June 18 to 20. They spend their time at the State Youth Centre in Moulali, practising from dawn to dusk. The day begins at 5 am with an hour of yoga. After breakfast, it’s a round of training sessions, encompassing all the arts, from acting to dancing, by guest teachers. Goswami elaborates on the finer points of body balance, movements and body language. In the evenings, it’s discussion time, on subjects like music, sets and props, and how they can be adapted for mime, with professionals in the field. The long day ends at 10 pm.

Twenty-seven-year-old ‘mime’ Madhu is a professional performer from Andhra Pradesh. He has been on an exchange programme to the US and has even performed in the UK. “Mime in India is on a par with anywhere else in the world. And workshops like these encourage us young people and our art,” he says. For Debabrat, 28, from Manipur, it’s a new experience. “I have not learnt dance and other art forms before, so it is difficult. But I like it. It is something new and we can use it in many ways.” In the group are two young men from Maharashtra who are mute. But language is no barrier for them as they expertly practise their art of silence.

Odissi exponent Poushali Mukherjee, teacher for a day at the workshop on Wednesday, demonstrated to the students the many forms of body language and their meanings. For her, too, it was a first, working with mime artistes. “It’s basically about understanding the meaning and then expressing it. Exaggerated movement to compensate for language. It’s realism and fantasy at the same time. I have learnt from them as well.”

Goswami explains that mime is no longer restricted to “masks and painted faces in black clothes. Nowadays, we use everything. That’s why we wanted to expand the youngsters’ repertoire by training in different art forms. In fact, mime is the basis of all other art forms.” This is the subject of the seminar from June 18 to 20, where four mime artistes from other states have been invited.

“We host a national festival every year. But this time, we wanted it to be different. So, although we have older experts performing and taking part, we wanted the spotlight to be on the youth. Hence, this time, they are running the show,” concludes Goswami.

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