‘A good play never needs updating’

Arundhati Raja, who is directing Girish Karnad’s iconic play Yayati, explains what makes it an evergreen story

July 21, 2017 03:23 pm | Updated November 11, 2017 03:26 pm IST

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Arundhati Raja is directing Girish Karnad’s iconic play, Yayati. Talking about the challenges of directing the play which took the theatre world by storm since it was published in 1961, Arundhati says, “It is a challenging and exciting play to direct. Set in a mythical time, in a story known so well by so many, it is difficult to make sure the dialogue stays true to the era yet does not sound overly dramatic to today's audience.”

Insisting she loves Girish Karnad’s plays and the directorial challenge they impose, Arundhati says she was attracted to Yayati because of the four strong female characters.

“Queen Deviyani, her slave Sharmishtha, the new daughter-in-law Chitralekha and the maid Swarnalatha. All of them are so essential to the plot. The way in which each one adds to the roller-coaster ride through one day in Yayati's life is brought out so dramatically through the well-crafted dialogue.”

Talking of the core of Yayati, Arundhati says, “An ancestor of the Pandavas, Yayati’s story, is found in the Mahabharata-Adi Parva, (The Book of the Beginning). In our present times of racial, social and religious intolerance, it is important to understand the social setting of that era and of the play. The origins of the word caste are attributed to the Spanish and to the Portuguese (casta) and subsequently the British Raj (caste).

“There are many theories to the origin of the word Varna. According to our ancient texts, however, the four Varnas, Brahmin (sages, scholars, teachers), Kshatriya (rulers, warriors and administrators), Vaishya (merchants) and Shudra (labourers and service providers), set the way of life and it was accepted that each would follow their destined path, their Dharma. Therein lies Yayati’s turmoil and all that happens in the play.”

Arundhati says the play is evergreen. “It was Karnad’s first play, written in Kannada in 1961. According to the playwright himself, it took seven years before it could be performed.

Four strong female characters didn't attract the male dominated theatre of the time. It has not looked back since. I am honoured to say that this English version was translated by him after a request from me to perform it at the Kannada Rangabhoomi in Ravindra Kalakshetra in 2006.”

The actor-director says a good play never needs updating. “I do not believe that an audience has to be spoon fed with ‘adapatations’ made so freely by so many theatre companies.

The nuances of creative directorial approach to characters and plot, of artistic design in set, costume and lighting can make a play exciting or boring, but that does not need the changing of the original writing. Presumably the play is chosen to perform because the words of the playwright are worth it in the first place.”

(Yayati featuring Divya Jain, Swati De, Rohn Malhotra, Vandana Prabhu, Vivek Vijayakumaran, Urvashi Goverdhan and Jagdish Raja will be performed from July 21 to 30 at Jagriti Theatre from Tuesday to Saturday at 8 pm and on Sunday there will be two shows at 3 pm and 6.30 pm. )

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