It was an exposition of a different sort. A director couple and 70 artistes turned the Rabindra Mandap auditorium in Bhubaneswar into a larger-than -life canvas staging a play, Aruna Ranga Ra Pakhi, painting it with varied emotions and expressions. The couple, Samita Mohanty and Gouranga Rout, moulded the artistes—girls of Utkal Sangeet Mahavidyalaya (USM), into characters—from mythical to contemporary—to translate eminent writer Rati Ranjan Mishra’s play Aruna Ranga Ra Pakhi into a stage production.
Ranjit, the protagonist, narrated his story, of truth, religion and justice in his struggle to exist. Stringing together the tales of Chandra, Abhimanyu and Dharama’s struggles and sacrifices, Ranjit found his moment of reckoning that he has to be on the altar for the good of mankind.
“It was invigorating. For the first time, we staged the play in epical proportion with 70 artistes, all students from 10 departments of the USM on one stage. The concept was based on a social issue that dwelt on characters of days of yore though we presented it in contemporary style. We decided on roping in Odissi dancers, Chhau learners, vocal musicians so that we can present integration of the arts through the play,” explains Samita, who is a visiting faculty in the drama department of USM. Married to Rout, an acclaimed theatre and documentary director of the state, Samita is one of the few women theatre directors from the state to have made a name for herself.
“The play required unique treatment in all aspects because of the importance of the subject and we wanted it to be peopled with as many characters as possible. The stagecraft too was trickily designed to make space for lighted areas and other darker shades. We ensured the characters do not look crammed so fading in and out was done through lighting techniques,” says Rout, who is one of the very few researchers to have achieved expertise in direction and academics. He continues to be a visiting faculty in drama department at the Utkal University of Culture since 2007.
Working in tribal theatre propelled him to pursue his PhD in the subject as well.
Though both have been bound by their passion for the stage for over two decades, they have established their own identities. Samita, who was a drama student, completed her post-graduation in acting. It was during that time when Rout, an economics post-graduate, changed his career to pursue his love for the theatre. He also completed post-graduation in direction and is considered one of the most versatile directors with as many as 70-80 plays and 45 documentaries to his credit. He has also been the associate for director A K Bir in his films like Adi Mimansa, Labanyabati, Aranyaka and Nandana.
“It was during my PG finals in 1993 that I had to present a play as per the curriculum. Samita, a graduation student of acting then, became my lead heroine for Jeeban Jatra (journey of life) and it was the same play that decided that we will be with each other in the journey of life,” Rout reminisces. “It was more a marriage for the sake of theatre not for a family. We were so passionate about theatre that we wanted to give it the best shot of our lives and today, we are happy together,” Samita agrees.
Though Samita has been a radio and television star, having acted in scores of plays and a couple of films, she has forayed into direction along with Rout since they tied the knot. While Samita looks after acting, modulation and costumes part of it, Rout calls the shots as far as direction and stagecraft are concerned. “I am authoritarian when it comes to direction,” he chips in. They have 20 productions together and conducted several workshops.
They staged their tribal plays Chalak Tuyu and Dhala Bilua with 25 Santhali actors in Tripura, Nagaland and Delhi as part of workshop presentations. Rout had staged Muktipatha, another play at Delhi under a Kendra Sahitya Akademi project in 1985.
“I could have gone out to make a career but I wanted to give something back to my soil,” says Rout, adding that all his plays are rooted to the soil and are close to his heart. However, Samita feels the best is yet to come for the duo while considering Arthur Miller’s All My Sons and Mrigatrushna as two of her best individual productions so far.
“There have been difference of opinion among the two, but we iron out these things pretty fast,” says Samita.