Imphal Review of Arts and Politics

Sumang Lila pioneer Oja Chinglen Thiyam obituary
Oja Chinglen Thiyam

COVID Lockdown May Have Hastened the Death of Oja Chinglen, the Peerless Soul of Shumang Lila

We have lost the Pole Star of Shumang Lila. By the death of Oja Chinglen Thiyam, popular as Commando Chinglen for his unforgettable role as a police commando in the play ‘Thawaina Punsigidamak’. In mid-June, Shumang Lila was bereaved, but more bereaved was Oja Robindro who plays wife to him in many plays (the couple pair is an impeccable genius of acting). But what proves significant is what Ojah Tolhal (S.Hemanta) says: The lockdown has something to do with his death.
Broadly speaking, performance of Shumang Lila has been suspended since February this year, first because of Public Exams of Class X and XII students, and then, just as the horizon was clearing up, the devilish lockdown began on March 24. The season of the artistes, when they earned much and also for the lean periods of the rest of the year, was butted off. The artistes, including the departed Oja Chinglen, were forced into low waters.
Oja Robindro ran a shop and that could barely sustain him, but Ojah Chinglen was so enfeebled mentally, morally and financially that he suffered a deadly stroke.
Covid-19 is a catastrophe for Shumang Lila. The artistes suffered their worst economic shock, and the odds are, there might be an exodus from this art. But till now, no fund has been set up nor relief extended to them.
Ojah Chinglen had always been perturbed by poverty. He was also deeply concerned by social injustices to women (his memorable appearance in Manung Hutna of Impact TV with Raj Ningthoujam as anchor in 2015 captured his philosophy and ideals). There can be no argument that his special talents in dialogue delivery is peerless.
And true, I’d say, artistes do not adapt themselves well in the nitty gritty of finance. So, they are prone to financial miseries, and Oja Chinglen was not an exception.
But Shumang Lila did not give up that easily, they have uploaded their plays online. “Professor”, “Shuti Loidri”,”Wari Loidri” and “Sanagi Nga” etc have been uploaded online.
In the eyes of some categories of people, Shumang Lila has no social value, and a skylarking of excitement and social orgies. But I take exception to it and would like to say that it has great educative value. It spreads proletarian values and imbibes moral lessons. With it’s satires of eccentric villains, the audience are purged of affectation and airs.
So, like the UK theatre which did not closed even during 2nd World War (though it was earlier closed, and George Bernard Shaw called it a “masterstroke of unimaginable stupidity” leading subsequently to its opening again), Shumang Lila is essential even when we sit on the thorn.
That doesn’t mean however that Shumang Lila should be held now amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which is impossible as social distancing among the audience will be hard to enforce. I only mean that some economic relief for the performers must be forthcoming.
During the 2nd World War, the Windmill Theatre of UK was bombed and an artiste was injured. But there was a lot of aid to the wounded artiste who took four months to recover and joined the theatre again. In our case, Oja Chinglen died but I didn’t see any aid coming to him or the other artistes.
We can pay our tributes to the late Oja Chinglen by setting up a Shumang Lila Artistes Fund, which can provide relief and aid to the beleaguered performers in the rough weather that Covid 19 pandemic has brought, a human catastrophe which the WHO has described as the severest pandemic mankind has ever faced.

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