He probably had the most addictive smile at the Intensive Drama Program (IDP). Heisnam Tomba walked the NCPA premises with an air of simplicity around him. It is difficult to imagine that here was a man who has excelled in almost every department of the theatre. Winner of the Sanskriti Award of The Sanskriti Pratishthan, New Delhi which is given to young artistes under 40 years, H. Tomba has been an actor, trainer, designer, music director, playwright and director. Hailing from the celebrated family of the Heisnams of Kalakshetra, Manipur, Tomba is the son of eminent theatre veterans Shri H. Kanhailal and H. Sabitri.Tomba has acted in major productions of Kalakshetra like PEBET, MEMOIRS OF AFRICA, LAIGI MACHASINGA, etc. He has co-acted with the London trained actress Alaknanda Samarth in an experimental production PRAKRIYA under the direction of Rustom Bharucha in Pune. As a trainer he has aided his fatherís research project on actorsí training methodology and has developed exercises for the body, voice and mind. He has taught students at Sambhav, New Delhi, at the at the National School of Drama (NSD) and in various other workshops throughout the country. His exercises have been demonstrated in front of an international audience in Japan and he has also conducted a workshop for young Asian actors in Singapore. As a designer, Tomba has designed costumes for MIGI SARANG, MEMOIRS OF AFRICA and Manipuri and Kannada productions of RASHOMAN. He has been a music director for the Kannada production of RASHOMAN, produced by BV Karanthís Rangayana.He has written plays like KUMGI NONG and HIJAN HIRAO, that have been widely acclaimed in Manipur. He has directed Tagoreís KSHUDITO PASHAN and HS Shivprakashís SATI. KANGKHATHANG, written and directed by him has become one of the most provocative pieces of theatre in Manipur.This senior fellowship winner of the Dept. Of Culture, Govt Of India was resting after a tiring day at the IDP guest house. As I invaded his privacy with my set of questions, he quickly rose to his feet, offered me a chair and sat on the bed like a devout follower with rapt attention. In spite of his stress, what one couldnít miss was his trademark smile. That comforted me and I wasted no time in shooting my questions at him.
Over the years how have you arrived at the training methodologies that you use in class?
Itís a long question. My father H.Kanhailal went to the NSD. But he couldnít speak Hindi well. Finally, he dropped out. He thought, if language was such a big problem, he had to find a new approach. Thus his theatre without language was born or what we call ĎNon-verbal theatreí. It involved usage of body, talking through body. He developed this theatre through productions like PEBET and MEMOIRS OF AFRICA. Our theatre group Kalakshetra, Manipur had been established in 1969. With all that work happening around me, I developed a sense of trust in my body and its potential. Itís been over 25 years that I have been experimenting. My methods have been born out of trial and error.
Who have your mentors been?
My mother, my father and my senior colleague, the late Manglem (Nongbansaba).
Are there any kind of specific exercises that you always do or are your training modules completely dependent on the program for the workshop?
I always go according to the workshop module. The basic exercises remain the same. So even during the later stages of the workshop, the students still spend one hour doing the basic exercises. Other relevant exercises then follow.
In a scenario where theatre is rarely practiced full-time and where most actors work from production to production, at times infrequently how is it possible to achieve the fine balance between training and practice?
See, actors should not mingle theatre and film. They should try to separate them. It is important to concentrate on what you are doing at one point in time. When you are doing film, do film and when you are doing theatre, do theatre. Donít mix.
Some characteristics that define your style of training...
Body. That is all I would say. Trust your body. Use the five senses. Develop them. Trust your mind. Tann and mann! We have many things deep inside. Bring them to the fore. Learn from nature around. Go into the wild, in the dark, bare-chested and open and take in as much as you can. Try not to use property in your performance. Itís all about the body.
Just as training helps an actor hone and develop his/her skills, is there ever the danger of 'being trapped' in a particular style or school of acting?
There is no such danger. You can learn from anyone. But you have to understand for yourself and do your own theatre. Make your own theatre.
What are the key words that you'd like your participant-actors to particularly bear in mind after they have been through the process?
In your long experience as trainer-practitioner, can you recall any one fulfilling experience of having observed your student-actor internalized your training?
There is this girl from Rampur, Assam called Rayanti Rabha. She is a tribal. Now this village is so remote that there is nothing there. No phone, nothing, only jungle all around. I saw her there. She was very energetic in her appearance. Then I saw her perform. Today, after five years she can teach anyone. Even without me being around. She now assists me with my productions. She is my best student.
*This interview is second in the series of exclusive interviews with the workshop conductors of the Intensive Drama Program (IDP), which took place at the NCPA from 4th-16th May 2009. The IDP was one of its kind of theatre workshops organized by Theatre Professionals in collaboration with the NCPA. The interviewer, Asmit Pathare is a young theatre enthusiast. His theatre experience dates back to his college days in Sangli. He has actively participated and assisted in various theatre productions in Mumbai. He is interested in films, writes poetry and has his own blog.
Click below to read the other interviews by the workshop conductors of the intensive drama programme..