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Impressive histrionics

"Andhi Veli" ... full of passion.

THIS SEEMS to be the time for theatre productions based on the Mahabharata. On the heels of Koothu-p-pattarai's "Panchali Sabadam" comes Theatre Nisha's "Andhi Veli." Directed by V. Balakrishnan, the Tamil play has been compiled from Bhasa's "Urubhangam" and Dharamvir Bharati's "Andha Yug."

"The Mahabharata has enamoured me like no other text," said Balakrishnan, "and I thought of weaving together Bhasa's classic with the best written modern Hindi play "Andha Yug," one culminating in the death of Duryodhana and the other commencing from it." The play, translated by Raghuram and Chandralekha, was staged at the Alliance Francaise recently.

"Andhi Veli" focusses on the last days of the Kurukshetra war and ends with the death of Lord Krishna (Palani) cursed by Gandhari (Seema) to be felled by a hunter's arrow. It begins with the mortally wounded Duryodhana (Lawrence) being visited by his wife and young son, mother Gandhari, blind king Dhritirashtra (Sriram), Balarama (Jawahar/Bagla) and Vidura (Anand Sami/Akell). It goes on to portray Aswathama's (J. Jayakumar) rage at the manner in which his father Drona and Duryodhana were killed, and the revenge he takes by slaying the Pancha Pandavas. When he tries to wipe out the dynasty by directing the Brahmastra at Uttara's (Abhimanyu's wife) womb to destroy the foetus, Krishna saves the unborn child and curses Aswathama to roam for an epoch with wounds festering on his body. This in turn invites Gandhari's curse upon Him.

The play was gripping and dealt with a great deal of passion. But the scenes soaked in emotion reminded one of the cinematic narration of the epics seen often in the various regional languages " ...the era will repeat itself. There will be an Aswathama. There will be blind kings and blind subjects...will there be a Lord Krishna ... I believe, yes... for He is the voice of consciousness that resides in us all ... this play is an attempt to reach out to that voice," says the director in his note. But we see very little of the director's viewpoint in "Andhi Veli." It is mostly an actors' work, most of whom acquit themselves well.

Rarely in a Tamil parallel theatre production have the lines been spoken so well. Each actor spoke the language with clarity and feeling and the pronunciation was creditable. There was not one place where they slipped up on the words and for that alone "Andhi Veli" was worth viewing.

If the speech strengthened the play, the costumes literally weighed it down. Huge and cumbersome, they gave the cast no identity. They seemed Hindu/Mughal/Greek/Roman and appeared highly uncomfortable too constraining the artistes' movements. It says much for the actors that they were able to transcend the limitations placed by their attire.

Among the actors, Vidura, Aswathama and Draupadi stood out. Akhila made for a very dignified and vocal Draupadi. The scenes featuring her were some of the best in the play. But Krishna was incongruous and unsuitable. When Draupadi addressed the figure clad in tunic and churidars, the stance of the artiste and the costume made one wonder why she was posing such lofty questions to this hunter like figure. When you learn later that it was Lord Krishna it was a shock that lasted right through the play. One could not reconcile with the bearded figure as the One who gave us the Gita. The dance of Siva by the same artiste was not just confusing but unwarranted.

The lighting by N. Natesh and the music gave a feel of grandeur, pathos and an epic aura to the play. There is a new vibrancy in Tamil parallel theatre and directors like Balakrishnan contribute to this.


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