Satyabrata Rout, who won best director for Matte Eklavya at the Mahindra Excellence in Theatre Awards, speaks about why he chose to re-tell the legend of Eklavya.

Matte Eklavya has all the makings of a great production — it bagged best director, best actor, best supporting actor and best costume at Mahindra Excellence in Theatre Awards last year — but its strong point is in its plot. The original play tells the mythological story of Eklavya, a gifted archer, who cut off his thumb at the command of his guru Dronacharya. But Matte Eklavya is told from Eklavya’s perspective, underscoring the oppression of a tribal boy at the hands of his upper caste teacher.

Satyabrata Rout, the director, speaks of how the plot of Matte Eklavya emerged. “I got an invitation from some of my Colombian friends in 2010 to stage a play that was based on a myth at an international theatre festival. I needed funds to stage the play, so some of my friends referred me to K. Ramaiah, a theatre personality of Aadima Ranga Tanda. He agreed to help me immediately,” says Satyabrata.

“Ramaiah was impressed with my commitment towards theatre. His only request was that the play should not be a myth told from the Brahminical perspective, but from the view point of the downtrodden, particularly of the Dalits, and that it should reflect their problems.”

Hailing from Orissa, Satyabrata, an alumnus of the National School of Drama (NSD), where he completed a master’s degree in theatre with specialisation in Design and Direction, related to Eklavya’s plight in a deeper way. “I have suffered from discrimination too. When I was in NSD, for instance, I didn’t know Hindi — that turned out to be quite a challenge. I have also been alienated because I am an outspoken person, I don’t hesitate to tell the truth.”

The play is also a comment on India’s education system. “We don’t always need a teacher. We can be self taught. Eklavya practiced without a guru’s assistance. He learned from Nature; she was his real guru. Now we have become like parrots. Writing one-line objective-type answers has become the norm. Subjective knowledge has been completely wiped out,” says Satyabrata, associate professor, Department of Theatre Arts, University of Hyderabad.

The script was written initially by Kuldeep Kunal, a leading playwright. “Apart from Eklavya and Dronacharya, the other characters we included were Vyasa and Ganesha as both actors and sutradharas or narrators and Shakti, a tribal goddess, who we re-created as Eklavya’s inner voice. The chorus were dancers who performed Colombian dance forms.”

Later, Satyabrata staged the play as a production for school children. The script was then written in Kannada by K. Ramaiah. Stunning visuals and dance are Satyabrata’s fortes, but he incorporated visual elements in the play because he knew the children would love it. The response he received from critics encouraged him to re-craft Matte Eklavya for adults.

It was staged to appreciation in Kamani Auditorium in New Delhi as part of META. How did the audience relate to it since it was in Kannada? To this, Satyabrata says: “As a director, language plays a minor role. Textual language forms only 10 to 15 per cent of the play; the rest the play is depicted through visuals. Visuals have no language; choreography and costumes speak louder. Though it was a Kannada play, it was better received than a Hindi play.” The language barrier notwithstanding, Satyabrata, who doesn’t know Kannada, brought out the best from his team of actors. “A director’s job is to identify the talents and potential of his actors. “Dingri Naresh who won best actor has excellent body expressions. The actor who played Ganesha, Chidambara Poojari is physically fit, I made the most of his potential in the play,” concludes Satyabrata.