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Rashi Devi, an actor of unmatched versatility

Born to Ksh Bhubon Singh and Ksh (O) Rasamani Devi of Thangmeiband Lourung Purel Leikai, as a lone daughter, Rashi Devi started her career at the age of 26 as an actor with her first performance in the play Jadonang of Aryan Theatre, Manipur essaying the role of Gaidinlu.

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Pablo Picasso, regarded as one of the most influential artists of the 20th century, once said, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.” But for Kshetrimayum Rashi Devi, every moment of her life is art itself. It doesn’t have to be pretty, it has to be meaningful.

“All that I am, I owe it to my mother. She was the greatest source of strength, inspiration, I wouldn’t be here if she were not there for me,” Rashi told The North East Affairs when asked about her recent conferment of the 13th Lifetime Achievement Award for her outstanding and continuous contribution to the growth and development of Manipuri Cinema by the Manipur government. On being conferred with one of the most prestigious awards, she remembers everyone who had contributed to her journey as an actor. She would like to dedicate the award to her gurus, especially Manipur’s internationally renowned director Aribam Syam Sharma, her former co-stars and all the members of the film Manipur industry.

Born to Ksh Bhubon Singh and Ksh (O) Rasamani Devi of Thangmeiband Lourung Purel Leikai, as a lone daughter, Rashi Devi started her career at the age of 26 as an actor with her first performance in the play Jadonang of Aryan Theatre, Manipur essaying the role of Gaidinlu. She attributed the chance to play Gaidinliu to her mother, who was an acclaimed theatre actor of her time. Her mother ‘Rasamani’ introduced her to one senior artiste called Manihar Sharma from Waheng Leikai which paved the way for her foray into the world of drama and acting.

She has been associated with many established theatre groups such as Aryan Theatre, Rupmahal Theatre, Manipur Dramatic Union, Apunba Saktam Artistes Union, Cosmopolitan Dramatic Union, etc. She also worked as a senior grade actor of Departmental Drama Union (DDU) of Directorate of Information and Publicity, Government of Manipur from 1978 till retirement. She is also an approved B-High Grade Drama artiste of AIR Imphal.

Rashi’s first breakthrough in the world of cinema came with a significant role in the first-ever Manipuri feature film – Matamgi Manipur in 1972. Incidentally, Matamgi Manipur is the film version of a very popular play Tirtha Yatra in which she also acted as the senior of the two wives of a man. However, in the film, she played the role of junior spouse of the man. Produced under the banner of K.T. Films Private Limited, the film won the President’s Medal at the 20th National Film Festival. Initially, Rashi Devi said, she only heard about the rumours that the play Tirtha Yatra would be converted into a film. But when a part was really offered to her, she felt excited at the prospect of acting in a film for the first time, that too, the first-ever Manipuri film to be made, at the same time she also felt nervous, overwhelmed by a sense of awe at the prospect.

Although Rashi has acted in many celluloid films, the release of Imagi Ningthem (My Son, My Precious) in 1981 turned out to be a high point in her acting career. In the film, she played the role of Ekashini, who adopts a young boy – Thoithoi, born to another woman with whom her husband had a brief liaison.

Directed by Aribam Syam Sharma, the film won the Golden Montgolfiere at the Festival des 4 Continents, Nantes in 1982. Imagi Ningthem was also screened at many International Film Festivals, including Denver International Film Festival, London Film Festival, Locarno International Film Festival, Montreal International Film Festival and International Film Festival of India. What’s more, the film won the National Film Award for Best Child Artist (Master Leikhendra) and also for the Best Feature Film in Manipur/Meitei Language at the 29th National Film Awards.

Rashi also acted in some of the best known Manipuri feature films including Lamja Parsuram (1974), Saphabee (1976), and Olangthagi Wangmadasu (1980).

Rashi also acted in as many as 130 staged plays and dramas under many famous theatres and gurus of Manipur. She won ‘Best Actress’ in the role of Gandhari in a folk drama competition organised by the North Eastern Theatre Organisation, Manipur. Rashi also won ‘Best supporting actress’ in the role of Leima Inunganbi in Piddonu. She was conferred ‘Lifetime Achievement Award 2014’ by the Sahitya Seva Samiti, Kakching (SSS Manifa).

Although Rashi has acted in many celluloid films, the release of Imagi Ningthem (My Son, My Precious) in 1981 turned out to be a high point in her acting career. In the film, she played the role of Ekashini, who adopts a young boy – Thoithoi, born to another woman with whom her husband had a brief liaison. 

Talking about the difference between acting on stage and on screen, Rashi says each medium demands a different approach and method. While on stage an actor has to reach out to the whole audience in the theatre including those sitting in the last row, calling for exaggerated facial expression, pronounced movements, throw one’s voice, on-screen the slightest of overacting, or even an unnoticeable twitch of a facial muscle will be caught by the camera.

Honoured with many prestigious awards and prizes in the field of theatre and cinemas, Rashi is still acting in many Manipuri Digital films. In her 70s, Rasi is not thinking of retiring from acting. She is still as eager as ever to play any role offered to her.

Although she loves watching all films of Binita, Kaiku, Bala, Gokul, etc, Rashi has a word of caution for them, especially for women actors – “Even as you prepare to play the character with the best of your ability, donning the most appropriate costume, wearing the most pleasing makeup to earn the appreciation of your audience, you should also be on guard, tread cautiously, and make sure you don’t stumble. Someday all of you will have a family of your own and at that time, no one should be able to point a finger at you.”

With these words, she signs off. But we will continue to look forward to seeing her on-screen many more memorable enduring and nuanced performances which will enrich our experience as a cinephile.

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