A man on the fringes

V. Balakrishnan talks about bringing to life on stage Rashmirathi, a poem on tragic hero Karna

February 13, 2017 03:22 pm | Updated 03:22 pm IST

On Valentine’s Day, Theatre Nisha presents a rendition of Ramdhari Singh Dinkar’s poem, Rashmirathi, which celebrates love, friendship and sacrifice. The protagonist of the 80-minute solo play, designed, directed and essayed by V. Balakrishnan, is Karna from the Mahabharata . “Dinkar was a national poet and an advisor on Hindi language to the Government during his time. He has written some fabulous works and they have been based on the nationalist fervour, since he was writing when India was still under British rule. And, this is one of the most famous ones in Hindi,” says Balakrishnan.

Dinkar’s poems were also about inspiring youth; so was Rashmirathi . More than harping on the mythological and larger-than-life qualities of an epic figure, he writes that any person who feels downtrodden or marginalised can rise to great heights with self-worth. “Rashmirathi is also a work on compassion, sacrifice and love for one’s motherland,” says Balakrishnan, who has been staging this play since 2010. “My first performance was in a temple in 1998 to a closed audience. I chose it because the poetry is powerful. I also love the Mahabharata and have been doing extensive research on the epic and the Bhagavad Gita. I have been able to associate many aspects of it to modern-day acting and sports.”

But why Karna? “Karna is one of my favourite characters. He is marginalised from birth and faces adversaries, but sticks to what he believes in. All of us want to be that person who follows rules, and be revered for the ability to give back. Secretly, we want to be like that, even if we are not able to. Karna is similar to great philosophers and saints who were ready to sacrifice for the greater good. These personalities believed their sacrifice would make humanity live better. Socrates happily drank hemlock and Jesus Christ was crucified so that the truth would be protected. When that kind of a catharsis occurs in a play, the audience is bound to get emotional.” But, he adds that many in the audience have also experienced national fervour.

The Mahabharata is a text that beautifully blurs the line between good and evil, he observes. “It talks about law; you are either on its side or against it. By the time the epic comes to a close, there is no clear picture of black and white. Most of us who have grown up with the Amar Chitra Katha or the C. Rajagopalachari version of the epic have read the Mahabharata as a fight between good and evil, but it is more of a social narration of larger-than-life figures.”

The play will be staged at Alliance Française of Madras, Nungambakkam, on February 14, 7 p.m. Tickets are priced at Rs. 200 and Rs.100 (for students). For details, call 96771 72897.

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