Theatre thrives in Itahari

Birat Anupam



Itahari, an evolving city in east Nepal, is immersed in theatre’s euphoria these days. Poets, school-goers, downtown housewives and suburban kids have been enjoying theatrical performances in this transit town where roadways from east to west and south to north of eastern Nepal intersect.

Theatre was not popular before dynamic young theatre artist and director Sonu Jayanti threw his artistic weight behind its activism. Popular poet Manu Manjil was another heavyweight to propel this theatrical sensation in the town for a decade.

There were few theatre activists in Itahari even before Sonu Jayanti devoted his full-fledged time for this performance art. Shyam Bhai Gautam, Ramesh Kumar Bista, Basanta Subedi, Lekhnath Parajuli, Kalpana Chaudhari, Bhadra Thapa Magar, among others, have been renowned theatre figures from this town.

Realising their huge contribution and dedication to the field of theatre, Sonu Jayanti hosted a cultural programme titled ‘Tyi Din’ (roughly translated as ‘Those Days’ in 2007. The programme featured catchy glimpses of theatrical performance, singing and dancing from these senior artists of the town.

“It was our goal to display brief peeks into plays, dances and songs in the past performed by our living veterans,” explains Sonu Jayanti, elaborating the reason behind organising this unique cultural function. “We accomplished our programme beyond expectations,” he adds.


Theatre for all: From School Theatre to Eco Theatre

Multiple theatrical programs like ‘School Theatre’, ‘Home Theatre’, ‘Village Theatre’ and ‘Eco Theatre’ were unveiled. School Theatre inspired school-goers to engage in theatrical activities. Sixth edition of School Theatre has been accomplished recently. Its first edition was performed in 2009.

Home Theatre incorporates working mothers and professional women. More than 35 women have joined this category and staged many plays, most recently about violence against women, on the occasion of International Women’s Day.

Village Theatre has trained dozens of village children.  Likewise, Eco Theatre has mentored many children on environmental causes and concerns including climate change, global warming and deforestation through various dramas.

Expanding love for theatres in town

Veteran theatre artists namely Abhi Subedi, Sunil Pokhrel and Ganesh Rasik have observed and praised theatrical developments initiated by Kalaalaya, the organisation pioneered and presided by Sonu Jyanti. Because of this expanding and encouraging activism, theatre penetration in Itahari is so deep and wide that almost all schools send students to take part in School Theatre. Various social organisations like Jaycees and Women’s groups  occasionally stage plays after daylong training by Sonu Jayanti.


‘Artists are more important than theatre halls’

Despite such an overwhelming public response towards theatre Sonu Jayanti doesn’t buy the idea to erect a theatre hall for regular plays. “We have seen unused theatres. Even the Gurukul in Biratnagar is not fully-used as per its previous expectations,” explains Jayanti.

“Therefore, we focus on skills not on structures. Structure won’t be a problem if we have plenty of skilled theatre artists. Theatre artists can survive without their own theatre halls but theatre hall can’t come alive without theatre artists.”

Poetic theatre and theatrical poetry

The important ingredient of theatre plays in Itahari is that they accommodate poems. Performance staging the famous poem ‘Uni Jeebanko Rangle Kawita Lekhchhin’ (loosely translated as ‘She writes poetry with life’s colour’) by poet Manu Manjil was widely appreciated by common people and critics. Most recently a poem called ‘Aama’ (Mother) penned by poet Dewan Kirati was also staged on the occasion of International Women’s Day. In this way, Kalaalaya blends theatre with poetry and poetry with theatre, thus drawing huge footfall.

Why do you blend poem and play? To this question, Jayanti replies: “I guess theatre is an expansion of poetry and it is wonderful to stage beautifully crafted poems.”

Unscripted and organic plays

Sonu Jayanti doesn’t make use of formal script to mentor theatre enthusiasts. Instead, he guides the ideas pioneered by trainees and imagined by him. “I don’t have script on the paper but I have imagination in my brain and I pour the same into our closed-door sessions,” says this versatile theatre director.

“Script is all about formality but imagination is a kind of meditation that ensures the best outcomes. Because of this trend, we are supported by non-theatrical personalities of our town like Deepak Gautam, Rewati Dulal, Umesh Subedi and the likes,” says he.


‘Thinking global, playing local’

None of the plays staged by Kalaalaya and its artists are of foreign origins. They stage plays created by locals and feature local culture and traditions.

“We can’t be theatre activists without knowing our roots. To portray our sentiment in plays, we search and stage organic dramas,” he explains.

“We read foreign dramas and foreign trends but stage plays in our own way. We base plays on our own stories, says Jayanti. “It is like thinking global and acting local.”

The writer is a journalist based in Itahari.

Published on 5 November 2017