A Mauritian troupe brought a little-known play by Tagore to New Delhi recently.
OVER THE CENTURIES
Balraj Ramphul’s cast - 2009
Santaram Choollun (king); Goonmantee Kodai (queen); Ramchurn Poonith (Devduth); Padmashree Ramoogar (Ila) and others.
Original cast - 1889
Rabindranath Tagore (king); Jnanadanandini Devi, wife of Satyendranath Tagore, the playwright’s elder brother (queen); Mrinalini Devi, Tagore’s wife (Narayani) and others.
It was not the first time that Balraj Ramphul of Triveni Kala Mandir, Mauritius, was in India. The play he presented at Kamani auditorium recently was a first in another way though. The theatre director’s interest in Rabindranath Tagore led him to stage “Raja aur Rani”, a relatively lesser known work by the bard of Santiniketan. It was reportedly for the first time that the play, a Hindi translation and somewhat abridged version of the original, was staged in India.
The play is memorable for its background. It was first staged at the Tagores’ residence at Jorasanko, with members of the family including the playwright taking the main roles. Though it is said to have been a huge success at the time, it is difficult to stage today.
Tagore’s penchant for weaving his beliefs — whether of spirituality or humanity or Indian nationalism — into his artworks is known. His dance-drama “Shyama” deals with unbridled desire, which can drive a person to forget the most basic moral tenets. It is associated with Buddhist principles, as is “Chandalika”, which tells the story of the Buddhist monk Ananda and the outcaste girl Prakriti who falls hopelessly in love with him. Her quest to satisfy her yearning brings about a monumental clash of desire and duty, fulfilment and renunciation, the temporal and the spiritual. In “Raja aur Rani”, the moral question is of the king’s duty to his subjects versus his personal desire to live happily with his queen. But here, without music and dance to give stylised shape to the playwright’s didactic contentions, the message becomes burdensome.
Ramphul agrees this type of play requires stylisation, and certainly his Mauritian cast tried to impart weight to the lines. He also made use of theatrical gestures and calendar-like set and costumes. Infotainment is difficult to pull off, though, and not all in the audience could digest the presentation. However, Ramphul feels the message is paramount. “We wanted to bring the message of love to the audience,” he says. “I started working on this play about a year ago. We have done 12 shows so far.”
Recently the play was also staged before the Prime Minister of Mauritius on Tagore’s birth anniversary. “It may be that it is a bit old fashioned,” notes Ramphul, who has earlier done Tagore’s “Post Office”. “But it has a message. That’s why we chose it. Even if the public doesn’t like it at first, we will continue doing it.” Ramphul owes his theatre training to the eminent theatre personality Mohan Maharishi, who visited the island nation in the course of cultural exchange programmes. Having directed plays like “Goonga Itihaas”, “Balidaan”, “Azadi Vatan Ki” among others, Ramphul is confident that Hindi theatre in Mauritius is in good health.ANJANA RAJAN