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A slice of the epic

The tragic tale of Aravan offers theatre immense scope for interpretation. KAUSALYA SANTHANAM writes on the attempt by Moondram Arangam.

Aravan ... arresting ambience.

ARAVAN IN the Mahabharata is a figure who represents rejection and exploitation. The son of Arjuna and the Naga princess Ulupi, he is not given his due as a prince. But just before the Kurukshetra war begins, he is a victim of expediency, chosen to be sacrificed to ensure the Pandavas' success. A brave warrior and a flawless youth, he volunteers for the sacrifice but wishes to marry before he dies. Aravan also wants to see the progress of the war after his death. As nobody is willing to come forward to marry him, Krishna takes the form of a woman and spends the night with him.

The story offers numerous possibilities for dramatisation. It has become a popular theme in the parallel theatre scene in the city as it lends itself to psychological interpretations. The story also helps interpret the inequities in society on a class and caste basis, for Ulupi was a tribal princess. Moondram Arangam presented ``Aravan," written by S. Ramakrishnan, at the Alliance Francaise recently. The play carried forward the theme from Na. Muthuswamy's brilliant ``Padukalam."

Moondram Arangam's production, directed by K.S. Karuna Prasad, was staged in the open air space behind the building and only when you groped your way there did you realise why the play had been shifted there. A huge lighted container was suspended from a wire ropeway and flaming torches were stuck between poles placed at various intervals. The effect was sombre yet arresting. But throughout the intense solo performance there was a sense of anxiety as the actor performed surrounded by the flames and as he was often directly under the burning vessel. Karuna Prasad threw himself heart and soul into the role and sustained the monologue. As Aravan introspects on his fate and is caught in the flames of desire, he sees a strange sight — a woman who tempts him and yet resembles Krishna. Having slaked his desire he is beset with doubts and questions. The actor's training as a member of the Koothu-p-pattarai was evident in these scenes. The sorrowful beat of the drum accentuated the pathos though the effect was diluted by a fellow artiste entering bucket in hand and dousing the fire.

The latter half dealt with Aravan being sacrificed and his thoughts as he roams about, severed head in hand. He sees a woman weeping and realises it is Krishna lamenting over his death. Aravan reflects on the unchanging human scenario — those in power plot and kill on the pretext of doing so for the welfare of their family or society. But unlike the original version, Aravan here is reluctant to die and rails at fate and the machinations of the well born and privileged. The first half seemed a well meaning but rather self-indulgent exercise while the second half had the questions and the answers. The scenes of the actor clothed in palm leaf carrying his severed had an impact but the sight was quite gory especially for the children present.

The change of venue had the actor as well as the audience at a disadvantage. As Aravan writhed and rolled on the ground in agony, he could not be seen by the audience seated at the same level and they had a tough time craning their necks to follow the action Yet it speaks of the actor's dedication and the power of the theme that the small gathering stayed riveted by the horror and the implications of the Aravan tale.

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