MIME - an art-form beyond compare!!!

Bringing moments to life, the 'mime' performance creates an impact beyond words -- bridging the past with the present.  The viewer experiences the feelings of the time and the place while interacting with historical, archetypal and mythological characters. Sometimes things from our present day to day life ... Mime is Life...

Life is Mime...!!!

Sculpting images, illusions and moments with deaf and dumb children and sometimes performing 'solo' - Achin Goswami from Calcutta is a talent to reckon with.

But before I get on with Achin's story, let me visit the past... the background story of 'Mime' - the art form...

As most of us know that Mime is considered one of the earliest mediums of self-expression. Before there was any kind of spoken language, mime was the only form that was used to communicate when the primitive people needed or wanted something. It is said to be the earliest form of expression. Even before the 'Quest for Fire'...Instead of fading into obscurity when the spoken language was developed, mime became a form of entertainment. It then developed into a true theatrical form in ancient Greece, where performers enacted everyday scenes with the help of elaborate gestures. The principle mimes were known as ethologues, and the scenes they would perform would teach moral lessons.

This is where it all began: the Theater of Dionysus in Athens. Masked actors performed outdoors, in daylight, before audiences of 10,000 or more at festivals in honor of Dionysus, the god of theater. The most elaborate form of Mime, known as hypothesis, may have approached the level of true drama. This would be performed by companies of actors, who would often concentrate more on the development of their characters, than the plot itself. Often one actor would play the part of several individuals in the production.

The comedy and tragedy which developed in Athens and flourished in the fifth and fourth centuries BC, have influenced nearly all subsequent Western drama, starting with that of the Romans. When the Romans conquered Greece, they brought Greek art of mime back to Italy and set about making it their own.

The Romans, with their love of spectacle, soon took over the existing theaters in Greece and began renovating and rebuilding them for their own spectacles, which included everything from pantomime to mock- naval battles. The remains of the Theater of Dionysus which we can see in Athens today date to Roman times and not the fifth century BC.

Mime enjoyed much success and growth under Emperor Augustus of Rome.

After the fall of the Roman empire, the Christian church showed great opposition to the bawdy, and often indecent associations of Mime, and excommunicated all performers, and closed down all the theatres. Despite this, the basic form of Mime survived. As the Church began to relax its attitude, mystery and morality plays began to appear with religious themes, many performed in mime.

(NOLA RAE)

Mime continued to entertain through the Middle Ages, and reached its height in sixteenth century Italy, in the form of Commedia dell'Arte. Commedia dell' Arte originated in the market places of the Italian streets in the early 1500's. Street performers began donning masks with exaggerated comical features to draw attention to themselves and to complement their acrobatic skills. The characters they created became affectionately known as Zanni.It wasn't until two Zanni performers teamed up that Commedia dell' Arte really took root and by 1550 it had become a firmly established genre.

Almost two and a half centuries later, in 1811, a Bohemian acrobatic family were playing in Paris. The son of the family, Jean Gaspard Batiste Deburau, was engaged to perform at the Funambules on the Boulevard du Temple. He remained at this Theatre, until his death, and during this time he converted the crude slapstick form of Mime, to the art form that it is known as today. Deburau was a master of his art, and was responsible for creating the lovesick 'Pierrot', the eternal seeker.

Mime received new impetus after the First World War from the great Jacques Copeau, who taught Charles Dullin at the Vieux-Columbier school. Etienne Decroux, who had been another pupil, took these beginnings a stage further, and together with his own pupil Jean-Louis Barrault, developed the first elements of modern mime. Barrault later went his own way, to create the first true mimodramas. Decroux and Barrault both appear in the highly acclaimed French film, 'Les enfants du paradis'. The film, shot in Paris in 1945 under the watchful eyes of the Gestapo, tells the fictional biography of Deburau, as he performed at the Funambules.

After the Second World War, Marcel Marceau emerged, who was a pupil of Decroux at the Dullin school. He created his own special character, known as 'Bip', who is a familiar sight, with his top hat with the flower sticking out, and his short jacket. Bip was a character similar to Pierrot, a down trodden character, who could sometimes win, but would always end up at the bottom of the ladder.

Influenced by the silent film stars like Chaplin, Keaton and Marceau- the 1950 Sydney born mime artist Nola Rae (photograph above - who founded the London Mime theater in 1974)  was the architect of a totally new style and tradition, the true creator and master of modern mime as we understand it today.

Quite like Nola, Calcutta's very own Achin Goswami also performs solo all over the country and holds workshops in different parts of Bengal as well as in Uttar Pradesh and neighboring states. A pupil of the king of Mime here in Bengal, Jogesh Dutta, Achin Goswami is into mime "full time" and dreams of  performing across international borders someday. I know he will...

(Achin goswami, in conversation with me)

Born in 1967, 26th of July, Calcutta, Achin Goswami's paternal family are originally from Dhaka (now in Bangladesh); a result of the 1947 partition. Achin's mother hails from Pabna district, also in Bangladesh now, he started his stint in acting since his school days (in Class 2) where he enacted the main role in Rabindranath's short story adaptation of "Chhuti", and had won accolades aplenty. However after he watched the film "Nayak" (by Satyajit Ray) when he was mere child, Achin had decided that he will become an actor like Uttam Kumar when he grows up!

That was the day the 'acting bug' actually bit Achin mercilessly and the 'silsila' is still on...

He had co-founded a theater group called 'Panchamukh- North' in 1980 and staged quite a few successful dramas like "Shotabdir Padaboli", "Chokhe Angul Dada" and "Ami Modon Bolchhi" which stoked the fire within him until it was blazing.

However after a couple of years on a close friends suggestion he came to learn Mime Art from the legend Jogesh Dutta himself. Achin was only 15 then... He was not well-off financially and after he disclosed this to Jogesh Dutta, he was kind enough to take this eager boy under his wings without any fee. Teachers like him were a blessing and are very rare to find these days, as education, art, everything associated with it, and the part of imparting it - all have become fully money-centric, a mere instrument to churn money, plain and simple business! I hope there are people like Jogesh Dutta still out there, who will never let a talent go to waste only because he/she can't afford to pay for the lessons of a certain form of art or subject!

Thus, with his teacher's blessings- the journey to fulfillment of Achin's dream began!

Completing more than a few hundred shows till date, and teaching many eager students this rare and effective art of Mime through workshops and regular classes in several schools and institutions, now Achin's latest project is based on minors, who are serving their time in Juvenile Prisons, which Achin has titled "Uttaran"(The Rise) as a part of his Senior Fellowship under the Ministry of Culture, Govt.of India.He believes, that this particular project will be a tuning point in his career as a Mime Artist.He especially works with the "deaf and dumb" children, holding workshops with them, preparing them with utmost care and affection to bring out best in them by simply sharpening the ability to communicate without voice and language which is already with them. His works and productions that are the most talked about are the ones that he has done with the children of "Gungey Behron Ka Vidyalay"- Kanpur U.P. where he spends 3 weeks each summer in the sweltering heat of North India teaching the children this wonderful Art-Form.

(Achin Goswami performs)

Achin roams the streets of Calcutta, walks down the back-alleys of a small town, watches the crowd closely down Shyambazar and learns to ape the sounds of various Animals, Birds and also certain people, their movements etc. only because he finds new topics, new subjects for his study in Mime and also the ingredients which will go on to create the next presentation in Achin's repertoire! Actually Achin says a lot WITHOUT SAYING ANYTHING AT ALL... and there is where his mastery of the age-old art lies!

 Written by Nilanjann Nandy.

nilanjan.nandy@gmail.com