“Matte Eklavya”, staged at the recent META festival in New Delhi, skilfully used the folk form Yakshagana to catch the nuances of the captivating story from the Mahabharata
The story of Eklavya described in the Mahabharata is eulogised by the protagonists of the Brahminical order to perpetuate the supremacy of the Kshatriya and Priest alliance to suppress the tribal, low caste and the marginalised. In the name of guru dakshina, Dronacharya blackmails the innocent, brave and self-taught Eklavya to severe his right thumb to deprive him of his prowess as a great archer of his time. “Matte Eklavya”, presented by Aadima Ranga Tanda in Kannada, Hindi and English at the Kamani auditorium in New Delhi recently as a part of the Eighth Mahindra Excellence in Theatre Awards festival, is a fine theatrical work which explores the multi-layered mythological theme about Eklavya, a brave son of the forest who dared to challenge the supremacy of a Kshatriya prince initiated into this art by a Brahmin who is vain enough to declare his disciple to be the unchallenged archer of the world.
Originally written by Kuldeep Kunal in Hindi, the play is adapted in Kannada by Bhagya Laxmi with lyrics by Kuldeep Kunal and K. Ramaiah, and directed by eminent stage director Satyabrata Rout. A graduate from National School of Drama, Rout is at present associate professor of scenography at the University of Hyderabad. In the eighties, his work as a director and set designer was greatly admired by the discerning audience of Delhi. His production of Kurosawa’s “Rashomon” is still remembered for its virtuoso design, evoking the ambience of the dreaded bandit’s dwelling in a dense forest and the exploration of the complicated nature of truth, penetrating its subjective and objective layers.
In the production under review, the set design by Samruti Ranjan Biswal is remarkable for its austerity and imaginative use of acting stage, upward and downward space to project multi-action points to create powerful emotional impact and capture the vastness of a forest where Eklavya moves about, practices the art of archery in front of a clay statue of Dronacharya with the singleness of his devotion.
One of the highlights of the production is its form based on Yakshagana. The director has adapted the elements from this vigorous and colourful folk form of Karnataka with ingenuity. It is in harmony with the content, used to express the story through visual imagery. The elegantly conceived choreography by Guru Sadashiv Pradhan, the subtle light design by Raghav Prasad Mishra and powerful chorus to the accompaniment of a wide range of folk instruments collaborate to create a tense atmosphere, enabling the performers to penetrate the emotional world of their characters, bringing them vibrantly alive on the stage.
The choreographic patterns are not mere elements to make visuals stunning but to enhance the characterisations. The stylised movements of the Pandava princes with main focus on Arjuna reflect the royal arrogance, disdain for the Naushad boy Ekalvya. In contrast, Eklavya’s movements reveal energy, swiftness, spontaneity, self-confidence and a sense of humility.
At another level, the play attempts to project modern Eklavya through the conversation between Lord Ganesha and Vyas, the author of the Mahabharata. Ganesha is haunted with the fate of mythological Ekalvya who is robbed of his rightful place to be the greatest ever archer because of the conspiracy of Dronacharya.
The energy of the performers, the expressive power of a variety of theatrical device, all contribute to make the production visually thrilling. However, one feels that Eklavya appears to be ambivalent about his response to Dronacharya’s demand for guru daksina in the form of his demand to severe his right thumb. The denouement scene covering Eklavya on the centre stage with a huge piece of cloth transforms the imagery into an abstract form, a magnificence image, its meaning remains vague. (In the Mahabharata, the story of Eklavya does not end here. With his indomitable will, self-confidence and youthful energy, he continues to practice the martial art of archery, using his four fingers and the thumb of the left hand and became famous as a warrior).
Dingri Naresh as Eklavya gives an outstanding performance, exuding physical vigour, emotional depth, deep conviction to active great heights in his art while practicing in front of the clay statue of Dronacharya whom he has accepted from the depth of his heart as his guru despite his disdainful rejection on the ground of his low birth. Chidambara Poojari as Ganesha gives a convincing performance. His Ganesha is haunted by the tragedy of Eklavya. He wants to recreate the character of Eklavya to reflect contemporary sensibility, wishing Vyasa to inspire him to rewrite the story of Eklavya. His Ganesha keeps us amusing from time to time as well as reflect on the fate of Eklavya in a society ruled by Brahminical cult.
Set in an arena-type stage, the narrative structure of Gasha and the form are remarkable for their innovativeness. Focusing on the plight of the Kashmiri Brahmins in the wake of the onslaught of terrorism, two young and innocent Kashmiri school children — one Hindu and another Muslim —talk about various things that fascinates children. The action shuttles back and forth between past and present. In the style of stream of consciousness, the action unfolds in a seamless manner.
Directed by Abhishek Majumdar and presented by Indian Ensemble, the script is written by Irawati Karnik. Here are multiple situations and a variety of characters. Only two performers delineate these roles who keep on stepping out of one character and entering another in a jiffy. This remarkable experimental theatrical piece evokes pathos, bitterness of the feeling of betrayal, suppressed anger and light-hearted moments. It will be remembered for long for its profound content and vivid and fluid form forming a harmonious artistry. Adhir Bhat as Gasha and Sandeep Shikar as Nasir, play a variety of roles displaying their excellent histrionic talents.