In Conversation with Sonam Stobgais, Theatre practitioner

By Stanzin Dasal Leh, May 15, 2023
Leh :

Q. Brief us about yourself. What sparked your interest in theater?

I am a performing artist, theatre facilitator, culture aficionado, and theatre director. I am born and brought up in Leh. I did my schooling at Lamdon School, later went to Vishesh Kendriya Vidyalaya, Ghaziabad, and pursued graduation from Delhi University. During college days there used to be College Theatre Club which gives students more opportunities to learn and grow in the performing arts. That’s how my interest and love for theatre developed. I got introduced to the National School of Drama and tried to get enrolled but was rejected initially. I tried for the second time with some preparations and got through it finally. In NSD, I realized that theatre is a vast subject and there is so much to learn and experience. The learning is highly intensive and is based on a thorough, comprehensive, carefully planned syllabus that covers every aspect of theatre and in which theory is related to practice. In the year 2002, I passed out from the National School of Drama.   

Later I worked in some films like ‘The last monk’, ‘Hero’, ‘Talvaar’, ‘Anek’, ‘Yahan’ etc. A new web series, 'Lootere' is coming up on Disney Hotstar. I also organised several theatre workshops in Leh and Kargil. 

Q. Brief us about the National School of Drama.

The National School of Drama is one of the prestigious theatre training institutes set up by the Sangeet Natak Akademi as one of its constituent units in 1959. In 1975, it became an independent entity and was registered as an autonomous organization under the Societies Registration Act XXI of 1860, fully financed by the Ministry of Culture, Government of India. 
The institute provides 3-year full-time Diploma courses in Dramatic Art.

Q. Share with us the various initiatives you have taken in the field of theatre in Ladakh.

In Ladakh, I organised several theatre workshops. The first theatre workshop was in the year 2004 in Secmol and later it was conducted at Mahabodhi also. A total of 25 students participated in each workshop. The workshop was fully financed and sponsored by NSD. Similarly, in the years 2008 and 2011 also organised a theatre workshop in Leh, and in 2014 or 2015 the workshop was conducted in Kargil also. Last year, for the first time LAHDC Leh in collaboration with the National School of Drama (NSD), a month-long residential ‘Theatre Workshop’ for the theatre enthusiasts of Leh Ladakh was organised.

Q. How do you see the status of theatre in Ladakh? How important is it to promote it?

I encountered some very different views about theatre. There was a time when the people sitting on a very high post are unaware of theatre, its objective, and its potential. Theatre has not been embraced as much as other arts. It seems that theatre is neglected at all levels which is why people are not aware of its importance. Awareness is needed at the root level; people should recognize how valuable the arts are to creating a civil society. There are many people such as NSD alumni, Mipham Otsal who are putting all their effort for so long to promote the theatre and cultural identity of Ladakh. 

Theatre is not taken seriously in Ladakh; for many, it is just for fun with no potential, scope, or opportunities. I must say that theatre is a complete subject it’s not just only about performing on stage. It trains the body, speech, and mind and helps in developing personalities.

The promotion of theatre in Ladakh is crucial because we see that many of the children in Ladakh are introvert, lack confidence, and are very timid. The child can be completely transformed in theatre by bringing changes in body, speech, and mind. Also, I feel that the inclusion of theatre in the education system is important because it will also help in curbing the growing drug menace in Ladakh. 

Q. What are the challenges you see in the field of theatre?

I must say the lack of well-equipped infrastructure in Leh is the major challenge to keep the art thriving. The financial crunches are also very challenging because there is a limited source of income. In theatre, you need to give ample time and in Leh what happens is that many of the artists are engaged in alternative work and are unable to give enough time for theatre. Also, the lack of importance and value to the theatre is a big challenge. 

Q. What will be your suggestions to the UT administration and Hill Council for the promotion and development of Theatre in Ladakh?

 Forming a separate art institution in UT Ladakh along the lines of ‘Sahitya Akademi’, ‘Lalit Kala Akademi', and National School of Drama will be very helpful to boot the art and culture of Ladakh. There are so many good talented artists in Ladakh excelling in different fields such as painting, sculpting, music&dance, etc, an art and culture centre will serve as a common platform for all the artists to sit, discuss, exchange ideas and work for the overall development.
Secondly, the establishment of a well-equipped auditorium or space to showcase the theatre or to conduct workshops, seminars, cultural symposiums, etc. is much needed. There is one space near the Shanti stupa in Leh called Sindhu Sanskriti which is quite far and has accessibility issues. Proper space in a prime location is much needed in Leh to conduct various programs.  

Appreciation of art like theatre, music, and dance should be inculcated in schools both Govt. and Private for character building, developing aesthetics and creativity. This will also make the school fun for students. 

Q. What will be your advice to those passionate about pursuing theatre?

Ministry of Culture offers fellowship programs every year which an interested student can apply for to research different topics such as mask dance performed in various monasteries etc. There are so much of scopes and opportunities to study, research, and learn about. Also, I must say that there is a need of passion to do rest will just follow. 

I am available on social media and anyone who needs any help or suggestion regarding theatre subjects can be in touch with me. 

Message to the readers

“We all must appreciate and encourage all the artists and their talents. Many times I see that artists are underestimated, we must not forget that they play a big role in preserving and promoting the rich culture and traditions of Ladakh.”