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Charting a character

Diwan Singh Bajeli
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BHARAT RANG MAHOTSAV The staging of “Uttara Ram Charitram” by Rashtriya Sanskrit Sansthan was unique in its attempt to stage the play in the original Sanskrit text. Diwan Singh Bajeli

TRAGIC UNDERCURRENTSA scene from “Uttara Ram Charitram”.
TRAGIC UNDERCURRENTSA scene from “Uttara Ram Charitram”.

Bhavabhuti’s “Uttara Ram Charitam”, presented by Rashtriya Sanskrit Sansthan, Bhopal, at the LTG auditorium as part of the recently ended Bharat Rang Mahotsav, was remarkable for its stunning visual beauty and emotional depth. A deeply-felt tragic undercurrent runs throughout the show. Though this play was seen on the Delhi stage in the Hindi translation under the direction of Prasanna, the present production of the play is probably the first attempt to stage it in the original Sanskrit text.

Bhavabhuti, who wrote in 7th Century A.D., is said to have written three plays, two of which depict the story of Ram. It is said that he reached his “greatest heights” as a dramatist in this play. Director K.S. Rajendran and his creative collaborators — Anjana Rajan as choreographer and music composer Sanjay Dwevedi — and the inspired cast created theatrical artistry which brings out the charm of a classical Sanskrit play.

As the title suggests, the play reveals Ram’s story after he returns from his exile and the victory over Ravan. As a loving husband he is trying to lead a blissful conjugal life, and as an idealistic king he is sensitive to the opinions of his subjects. In his heart of hearts he knows that Sita remained chaste during her captivity in Lanka. Through his secret agent Ram comes to know that people are suspicious of the purity of Sita while she stayed in the palace of Ravan for years after he abducted her. As a king with lofty ideals he is morally compelled to abandon Sita despite the fact that she is in an advanced stage of pregnancy.

Meanwhile, Laxman displays paintings depicting the life Ram, Laxman and Sita had led during their banishment. These paintings are vivid and they revive the bitter memories of the past, painfully disturbing Ram. Once Ram has to go to a faraway forest to eliminate disruptive elements. This is the very forest he has wandered in in the company of Sita. He meets Vasanti, who was a friend of Ram and Sita during their days of banishment. Vasanti is very critical of the conduct of Ram, who had abandoned Sita. As a result of his intense guilt and the realisation of the inhuman treatment he has meted out to Sita, Rama faints. In the same forest Sita perceives the miseries Ram is suffering. She is moved to see his pathetic condition. Invisible, she comes and touches Ram, which helps him regain consciousness.

There is another thread: Lav and Kush, the two sons of Ram and Sita, confront Chandraketu, the son of Laxman, with a royal horse, as a symbol political supremacy. The twins finally meet Ram. The play ends on a happy note — Ram, Sita and their sons unite.

The most gripping scenes in the production are those where Ram watches paintings that are projected through beautifully conceived choreographic patterns full of life and vividness. Based on classical dance forms like Kathakali, Bharatanatyam and Kathak, the accompanying music and light effects greatly enhance the aesthetic beauty of these choreographic compositions. The dancers move in an effortless manner, executing compositions with grace. The stylised movements appear to have been inspired by Chhau to evoke a heroic mood.

However, at places where the acting style is realistic, the pace becomes slow. In fact, the movements of the performers should have been stylised throughout to be in tune with the imaginative choreography. Music direction by Sanjay Dwevedi by and large evokes the necessary mood and carries forward the story. However, it needs greater variety of tunes to reflect the infinite layers of karuna ras , which is essentially the core of the play.

It seems that the production has been mounted after thorough rehearsals, which is evident in the style of delivery marked by ease and dramatic force. In the past we have seen some plays in Sanskrit in which the performers deliver their lines in a laboured manner, resulting in superficial characterisations. In the production under review, the performers concentrate on acting, which make their portrayals convincing. Manoj Mishra as Ram acts with sensitivity. Through his restrained facial expression, movements and delivery, he brings to the fore the intense agony and guilt of his character. Kalyani Phagre as Sita has an impressive stage presence. Her scenes with Ram are delicately projected. Her Sita has internalised her sufferings, remaining dignified even in the midst of emotional crisis. The audience deeply sympathise with her and heave a sigh of relief when she happily reunites with Ram, her husband.

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