In 1981 a young woman in her teens was featured in “Rajula Malushahi”, an opera based on the immortal love of two legendary characters of Uttarakhand ballad, in the lead role. Director B.M. Shah, music composer Mohan Upreti and writer B.L. Shah selected her after auditioning about a dozen seasoned actresses. Her co-artists were veterans of the Delhi stage like V.M. Badola and Vinod Nagpal. Bharti Sharma brought to her challenging role a fresh breeze, heart-warming charm and musicality that thrilled, winning the hearts of the audience. The opera was considered by connoisseurs of the theatrical art as a landmark production in evolving a truly Indian opera. Bharti’s performance was the main factor in her selection for National School of Drama’s graduation course. Ever since, she has marked a steady growth as an artist and was selected as repertory artist of National School of Drama. She founded with some NSD graduates Kshitij Theatre Group and under the banner of this group she produced several memorable plays. Her fine artistry and the ability to discover underlying meaning is reflected in her new production of “Karmbhoomi” which was presented by Kshitij at Shri Ram Centre recently.
A slick production, it is charged with anger, hatred and revenge leading to a calm reflection on war which always destroys both the winner and the vanquished. It aims at penetrating the inner world of the warriors of the Mahabharat with its focus on Draupadi and Ashwatthama.
The original play entitled “Draupadi” is written by Vidhyadhar Pundlik in Marathi which is translated into Hindi by Vasant Dev as “Karmbhoomi”. The play opens when the 18-day war of Mahabharat culminates into the victory of the Pandavas and the total annihilation of the Kauravas clan. Draupadi is in her chamber, giving instructions to her attendants to make arrangements to give a grand welcome to the victorious army of the Pandavas. After suffering humiliation and hardships, her honour has finally been restored by Bhima who killed Kaurava Prince Duryodhana. Bhima has also fulfilled his oath “to rend the breast and drink the heart’s blood of this sinful Dushasana – this shame of the Bharata race.” The heroes are given royal welcome. But soon enough Draupadi’s ecstatic happiness gives way to gloom and rage.
Wounded deeply by the death of his father Dronacharya by the Pandavas by resorting to falsehood and merciless death of Duryodhana by Bhima throwing all the ethical norms of Dharm Yodha, Ashwatthama acts like a beast, kills Draupadi’s sons while they were asleep after celebrating victory. Draupadi is determined to destroy Ashwatthama and in rage asks Bhima once again to fulfil her wish and drag Ashwatthama to her feet and tear down Mani – the jewel – embedded in his forehead which is the source of his invincible physical and spiritual power. As Bhima does the act of forcibly removing Ashwatthama’s jewel, blood starts flowing profusely. Suffering from intolerable pain, humiliation, Ashwatthama keeps on wandering from place to place in vain for solace.
In the second half we meet a different Draupadi. She is a picture of repentance and compassion. She reflects on the wanderings of Ashwatthama to get oil to be applied on the wound created by the removal of jewel from his forehead by Bhima. She wants to meet him and even questions Bhima about the Pandavas victory. Unable to comprehend her volte-face, Bhima leaves the scene. Now she feels that war is an evil that destroys humanity and it must be prevented. A changed Gandhari comes to meet Draupadi in her bereavement. Removing the piece of cloth she has been using to cover her eyes to be in harmony with her blind husband King Dhritarashtra, she is no more consumed with hate and revenge. To her the blindness is a kind of mask to hide one’s inner brutality and morbidity. The masks must be removed by humanity to form human brotherhood. She seems to have reconciled with the death of her 100 sons killed at the hands of the Pandavas in the battlefield. Both women are united in the death of their sons.
One night crying in pain and suffering from deformity, enters Ashwatthama. Draupadi recognises him, offers him water and applies oil on his wound in the forehead and he leaves her chamber to continue his wanderings.
Bharti has designed her production aptly. On the upstage a raised platform is created which is used for the movements of warriors and prisoners. On the centrestage right, a red drapery is hung as a backdrop to reinforce the mood of celebration. On the centrestage left, the backdrop is provided by a white piece of cloth to symbolize compassion, forgiveness and quest for eternal peace. The director displays restraint artistry both in acting style and use of property. So is the choreography by Basu Sharma for the movements of warriors and their captives, avoids superficial gestures. Acting blocks and all the expressive elements are harmoniously merged together.
Bharti in the lead role of Draupadi reveals her consummate artistry as an actress. The hallmark of her acting style is down to earth and realistic exploring the inner recess of the heart of Draupadi torn by conflicting emotions. Mohit Tripathi as Ashwatthama reveals the dilemma of his character with telling effect. He acts with intensity and total concentration on the complex emotional and psychological worlds of his character. Lakshya Goel as Bhima, Anurag Kumar as Krishna and Vijay Kashyap as Veer Sen enrich the production with their riveting performances.