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Epic footsteps

DEEPA GANESH
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THEATRE D.K. Chowta's significant work Mittabailu Yamunakka has an equally remarkable stage version

Expanding frontiers Mittabailu Yamunakka takes on an unusual trajectory Photo: Sampath Kumar G.P.
Expanding frontiers Mittabailu Yamunakka takes on an unusual trajectory Photo: Sampath Kumar G.P.

T he canvas is enormous – D.K. Chowta's Tulu novel “Mittabailu Yamunakka” is historical in nature — from Tipu's period till just after Independence. It is also a retelling: a story from a largely oral tradition making its way into the written world. In the process, the old has been thrown into new light gaining new magnitude. The play, with remarkable élan, quietly does away with strait-jacketed notions of right and wrong in its nuanced narrative. Every individual hence becomes a product of his context, and ‘time within time' itself becomes one of the key characters.

D.K. Chowta's significant work adapted to stage (Basavaraja Soleripalya) — performed by Ranganirantara — is among the best Kannada productions of recent times. The literary work has not lost any of its epic qualities. It brilliantly yokes the rich, oral culture with the political forces of the period and its implication on a people. It does it with an objective creative distance thereby opening the text for multiple interpretations. Hence, to call it a story of “feudal” society or of a “time” would be to undermine it. As the author sees these various worlds unfolding before him, we see it with him and hence it becomes a text of our times — of power, ambition and war. But not just that.

Yamunakka's (played brilliantly by Renuka Reddy) struggle and rise to power may be seen as a story of feminism. But in her ruthless actions, usually reserved for men, the text is not idealistic in its feminism either. She steps out of the traditional female domain, but is not less vulnerable to the lures of power than any man. Yamunakka is a faultless picture of merciless confidence, who does not hesitate to respond to any challenge. Subbanna, a counter-point to his sister Yamunakka, brings the invisible force of Gandhi to their home Mittabailu. While he takes recourse in the Gandhian philosophy that the path is more important than the destination, for Yamunakka the destination is more important. “Was there any doubt that Kamsa had to be killed?” she asks Subbanna refusing to accept Gandhi's philosophy of non-violence. As Mittabailu bubbles with opposing forces of violence and peace, it becomes the microcosm of pre-independent India itself.

The scene between Achchakka (Geeta Suratkal is superb) and Yamunakka is particularly moving. The two women, who, despite belonging to opposite camps, rise above their differences and embrace each other in their stories of love and sorrow.

The play is brilliant for its authentic use of props and music. Ably directed by Pramod Shiggaon, it rested firmly on the shoulders of its actors.

DEEPA GANESH


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