Published: 21st May 2018
For Arjun Samanta Ray from Jaitni, Odisha, every performance is a one-man show
Arjun Samanta Ray performs for school children in Odisha and doesn't take a rupee for his efforts. We find out the secret behind his drive
What does it take to put up a play? Actors, costumes and a stage, among several other things. But all Arjun Samanta Ray needs is himself...and his trusty gamcha (thin, cotton towel) of course. The 26-year-old has delivered over 70 performances in schools and villages that would otherwise not have the chance to experience this kind of theatre. This full-time theatre artist performs only in Odia and doesn't expect a rupee from his spectators, though, depending on the generosity of his audience, he sometimes goes home with amounts ranging between Rs 40 and Rs 1,500. Though the weight of his pocket might vary, what remains constant is the feeling of satisfaction that he gets from this field — the field of performance art.
Ray has worked with theatre directors like Satyabrata Rout, a Sangeet Natak Akademi Puraskar winner; the late Dr Subodh Patnaik and several others
"For most artists in Odisha, theatre is not a profession, it's a hobby. I can never be that person who works from 9 to 5 and does only two hours of theatre after that," says Ray, who was born in Jatni, Khurda. Following his heart's desire, he went on to train under Heisnam Kanhailal, the late Indian art theatre exponent, who is a Padma Shri and Padma Bhushan awardee, and Sabitri Heisnam, a Padma Shri awardee as well. He recalls one particular piece of advice he received from Kanhailal, "Never follow one person because if you do, you become their carbon copy. Do what your heart says and retain your originality."
Eyes front: Ray during one of his performances
Carrying this and all the other lessons he has learnt in his heart, Ray started performing solo in schools on August 2, 2017. This theatre enthusiast has been performing a play he has written himself called Icha, a story of a young girl who couldn't pursue her ambitions of studying further because her parents married her off early. There are four characters in this play — Icha, her brother and her parents — and all of them are portrayed by Ray, without changing costumes or make-up. "It's all about voice modulation," he tells us.
Batting for theatre in education, Ray says that this art form gives children confidence and limitless imagination. Also, Ray is working on a play that he is writing and has two short films coming up in which he has acted
But he doesn't pander to stereotypes by talking in a high-pitched tone when delivering Icha's dialogues or adding an unnecessary baritone to the voice of Icha's father. He just modulates his voice enough so that children are able to differentiate between the characters. Body language too helps with the matters. "I've had instances where, even before I attempt to seek permission in schools to perform, the officials have driven me away. I have even been told, 'Are you a magician? If you are, only then your performance can be arranged'," says Ray, indignantly. But this was just a one-off instance. During most performances, all eyes are usually filled with tears.
What is art? Whoever attempts to answer this question falls short. But for me, it's salvation itself
Arjun Samanta Ray, artist
But Ray is under no false impression that theatre alone can change the world. But, "I do believe in its power to connect with people and inspire them," concludes Ray.
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