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Celebrating fantasy

Ninasam Tirugaata presented the Kannada play Paataragitti Pakka as part of the 17-day National Theatre Festival that Ranga Shankara is conducting. The alliterative, poetic title, which translates to The Wings of the Butterfly, an extract from one of the most celebrated poems by Bendre, had prepared one for the lyrical content in the play. What came as a surprise, however, was the way writer-director K.V. Akshara had interwoven Bendre's poems with Garcia Lorca's farcical play The Shoemaker's Prodigious Wife.

Though the Spanish playwright was a revolutionary and Bendre, a humanist, they do have a lot in common. Both of them believed in the supremacy of imagination or fantasy and tried to bring down the wall that separated poetry from theatre. "I sincerely believe that theatre is not and cannot be anything but emotion and poetry — in word, action, gesture," says Lorca. Both Bendre and Lorca were preoccupied with the man-woman relationship and evolved a new language for their poetry based on the folk ballads of their region. The present production attempts to "sow the seed of Bendre in Lorca's soil with the hope of harvesting a rich, new crop".

The play begins with the chorus of actors introducing Lorca to the audience and explaining the process and the purpose behind the play. A choreographed rendering of Bendre's famous poem Bringada Benneri Bantu sums up their aspirations.

This is followed by the explosive entry of the shoemaker's young wife, feared by the entire village for her shrewish temper. Compelled by her poor circumstances to marry a man three times her age, she spends her time fantasising over the suitors she could have had, and flirting with the passers by, much to the agony of her aged husband. But when the husband, tired of her ways and of the village gossip, walks out on her, she begins to play the loyal wife, warding off her suitors and idolising the absent husband. Though full of sympathy for the husband's plight when the story of her own life is played back to her in the form of a fantasy by her husband disguised as a puppeteer, she is back to her shrewish self once he reveals himself.

This contradiction between fantasy and reality is so universal that Akshara is able to Indianise the play without changing any of the essential details. All he has to do is remove the Spanish names, use the local idioms and bring in a bit of Indian mythology. While the plot provides Bendre's poems a dramatically new context, his beautiful metaphors give the play a new depth. There are times when only the opening line of the poem reflects the mood of the play while the rest of the poem appears quite unrelated to the context. But the title song fits in well with the butterfly scene in the play.

The actors move and speak with the energy, clarity and deliberateness one has come to associate with Ninasam productions. Any lack of spontaneity is compensated by their earnest effort to be correct. The puppet scene is colourful and impressive. The sets consist of just a few small multi-purpose stools and mattresses used to demarcate different spaces. Costumes are a mix of the realistic and the suggestive. Though the colours were carefully chosen, there was definitely something odd about the shrewish wife being dressed in a langa-choli.

The moving, on-stage chorus is put to excellent use and the transformation from a neutral chorus to curious villagers is managed well. Music reflects the synthesis of two divergent cultures. Of the two instruments used by the chorus one was a native looking drum and the other, an electronic synthesizer!

But the rhythm used in the opening song evoked the military mood rather than the gentle flight of fancy.


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