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Colours galore

TROUBLED The black shadow hovering over Van Gogh visualised his disturbed state of mind

Painting and theatre were inextricably woven together in Suryakanthi, a Kannada play based on the life of the Dutch painter, Vincent Van Gogh. Presented by theatre group Chitra, which shares its premises and resources with the art school, Kalamandira, the play has been scripted and directed by A.M.Prakash, himself a noted painter and the Principal of the art school.

Born the son of a Dutch pastor, exactly a year after his mother had given birth to a stillborn child, (also named Vincent) Van Gogh appears to have suffered the psychological trauma of being a `replacement child'. After a brief stint as an art dealer, Vincent became obsessessed with religion and worked as a lay preacher in a poor mining area in southern Belgium. His excessive involvement with the impoverished miners did not go well with the church and so he was relieved of the position. It was during his stay with these miners that Van Gogh started to sketch seriously. Van Gogh was a man of volatile temper and unpredictable behaviour. His relationship with the family became even more strained after he took into his home a pregnant prostitute and her young daughter, who served him as his models. But he always remained close to his brother Theo, who gave Vincent life-long emotional and financial support. The play, autobiographical in its approach, draws much of its material from the correspondence between the two brothers (as recounted by Nemichandra in her book on Van Gogh). The story of his personal life and his growth as an artist, narrated by two different actors playing Van Gogh is interspersed with brief dramatisations of some the most significant moments of his life.

During all this narration and drama, a third Van Gogh goes on painting the last of his masterpieces, The Wheatfield with Crows, on a glass canvas in the background. The painting is finished as the play comes to an end.

Though the hour-long play manages to find effective visuals to communicate the emotional insecurity, delusions and the inner agony of the painter, one cannot help wishing that the drama in these moments had been exploited. The technique of using multiple images of the artist to show the split in the painter's person and the feverish creative activity he carries on even during his mental illness helps avoid the monotony of narration and is one of the main assets of the play. While better visual can a play about a painter offer than have him actually create his masterpiece right in front of an audience. It contrasts well with way the actor who fakes the artiste puts a ready painting together like a jigsaw puzzle. The creation of the yellow house is quite clever. The black shadow, which hovers over Van Gogh effectively, visualises his disturbed state of mind. But the gaudy grave-cum-seat at the other end of the stage is a bit of an eyesore.

An interesting parallel to `the king of colours' was the female protagonist of the play Bannada Rani, (literally `the queen of colours') directed by B.V.Rajaram for Kalagangothri. Bannada Rani also revolves round the life and work of an artiste, but this one an imaginary character, the owner of a theatre company and a gifted actress with a most enchanting voice.

Since the artiste, Prathibha Narayan, who played the role does happen to be an excellent singer, the audience were treated to some real exhilarating numbers.

Bannada Rani, written by Rajendra Karanth, is a rather melodramatic account of the trials faced by the artiste who has to cope with a drunken husband and unsympathetic relatives. While the plot, the loud humour and Prathibha Narayan's acting take Bannada Rani close to commercial drama, actors like Rajaram, Karanth, Srinivas Meshtru and Ravindra try to induce somesubtlety into the play.


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