A worthy human being spurred by fate time and again because of his caste. No matter how old the context is, it is a scene that still angers. When that is captured in the imagination of one of Hindi literature’s finest writers, Ramdhari Singh Dinkar, and essayed by the charismatic V. Balakrishnan, it is nothing short of catharsis that the audience experiences. On Valentine’s Day, thanks to Theatre Nisha, we fell in love again with tragic-hero Karna.
Rashmirathi , a one-man show, depicts episodes of the Mahabharata to tell the story of Karna. The 80-minute-play showcases the power of words. Be it the scene where Karna meets Kunti or where he is cursed by sage Parashuram for masking his real identity, these moments tug at hearts; you seethe at the injustice.
The play does not use grand sets to recreate the war. In fact, the poem, as well as the stage act, is a concentrated version of the epic, and focusses on the crisis faced by Karna the person. And, Balakrishnan beautifully brings out his ostracism. The simplicity and musicality of the verse, rendered with the right variation depending on different characters, makes you want to pick up the book by Dinkar.
Balakrishnan renders dialogues in different emotional wavelengths, depending on the situation. With absolute ease, he switches from the charming Krishna, the diplomat, who is negotiating with the Kauravas about property distribution, to an agonising Kunti, who begs her son to not kill his brother.
The second moves you to tears, especially when Karna promises his mother that she will still be left with five sons after the battle, but he won’t give up his loyalty to Duryodhana. There is a certain meditative attention with which Balakrishnan has designed the play. The subtle play of colourful lights adds to the mood of the scene, and the intimate ambience of Alliance Française de Madras makes this an even more reflective experience; as if Karna is talking to each one of us. The powerful emotional undertones are understated. And, the last scene is neither melodramatic nor cold.
The wheel of the ratha sinks into the mud. As Karna bends down to fix it, Krishna asks Arjuna to shoot. It is one of the most poignant and philosophical moments of the Mahabharata , which Balakrishnan single-handedly captures in all its epic proportions, without any resonating drum beats or background score.
The poem concludes with the ongoing verbal battle on dharma between Krishna and Karna. Who is right in the battle of vengeance and blood? The play urges us to think beyond the black and white.
At a time when literary and theatrical works reinterpret epics to connect to contemporary audiences, to stick to an original verse written in 1952 and present it without any adulteration requires courage. And, Theatre Nisha deserves a packed audience just for that.