Kolkata-based theatre group Kasba Arghya staged 'Urubhangam' as part of the ongoing Kulasekhara Theatre Festival

Layam Ground’s poorly-laid out auditorium, its ill-conceived stage grubbily cramped into a corner, was the biggest letdown.

As if to block what was left of the stage for the audience to watch, at least five pedestal microphones were arranged in a line right at the edge. Without adequate lighting bars, backstage and entry points, it was a tall order for the Kolkata-based theatre group Kasba Arghya to stage their production Urubhangam on Sunday as part of the ongoing Kulasekhara Theatre Festival organised by the International Centre for Koodiyattom (ICK) at Tripunithura.

It goes to the talented group’s credit that they did exceedingly well, leaving the packed house that stayed to the end till late into the night, asking for more.

As ICK chairman K.G. Paulose said, the production is a concise version of the six-hour-long Mahabharata that the troupe successfully performed overnight in Kolkata.

The structure, presentation and content of Urubhangam belie those of Bhasa’s play by the same name. Maneesh Mitra, the script-writer and director of the play that’s part Bengali and part Hindi with a bit of English thrown in, has delicately amalgamated the all-encompassing Mahabharata, especially the episodes involving love, lust and assertion of power, to form a narrative that is both contemporary, classical and layered.

Mr. Mitra has made extensive use of devices from Koodiyattom, Nautanki, Kathakali, martial arts, modern theatre and other forms of creative expression to expatiate the intricate experiences of love, lust and megalomania.

Live music, full with aalap, and the use of chenda in the final sequences especially in scenes where Dussasana’s death at the hands of Bhim are elaborately enacted a la Kathakali by the troupe’s strikingly-talented Suman Saha, add to the play’s appeal.

Actors transcend genders and characters, giving bodily expression to experiences. Silences on the part of those in positions of authority towards incidents of atrocities against women; in pre-empting bouts of violence; and in upholding natural justice are all brought to the fore in the production that lasts for a little over two hours.

“The full-night performances have been quite successful in Kolkata and we are about to celebrate the first anniversary of the production,” said Mr. Mitra, who holds the theatre in Kerala in high regard.

Though meant for the proscenium stage, the play struck a chord with the audience thanks to the stunning performances of the actors, who easily switched characters and at times, turned into musicians.

The troupe on Monday evening performed the play Pandavani.

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