Theatre

A victim of circumstances

A TRAGIC STORY Krishna Kant’s “Maharathi” shows the injustice meted out to Karna  

The legend of Karna is deeply ingrained in the collective conscience of Indian people. An epitome of exceptional valour, great philanthropist and unflinchingly loyal to his benefactor, Karna became the victim of the alliance of Kshatriyas, Brahmins and Indra. The injustice perpetrated on Karna has been voiced in Sanskrit classics as well as in contemporary creative works. The earliest known Sanskrit playwright Bhasa in his “Karnabharam” depicts the way Indra in the guise of Brahmin deprives him of his invincible armour just before the decisive war between Karna and Arjuna is to commence. Late Kavalam Narayana Panikkar in his landmark theatrical pieces has interpreted the character of Karna for the contemporary audience. No wonder at various national drama festivals we witness different interpretations of Karna. Viewed in this context “Maharathi”, which was presented by Harfkaar Foundation at Shri Ram Centre recently, is a significant production of a play in Hindi.

The play is directed by Krishna Kant, professionally trained and seasoned theatre artist, who had already directed “Maharathi” in the 90s with a cast like Saurabh Shukla, Aashish Vidyarthi, Manoj Bajpai and Nawazuddin Siddiqui. With superb acting under his brilliant direction, the production was critically acclaimed by the audience and critics. One of the memorable productions of Kant was Arthur Miller's “A View From the Bridge” in Hindi translation featuring Saurabh Shukla as Edie. Kant's star cast left for greener pastures in Bollywood. Kant also left for Bollywood. After a long absence from Delhi theatre scene, he has re-entered with “Maharathi” that bears the stamp of his mature craftsmanship. This time also his cast includes some highly talented actors of the Delhi stage whose artistry has vastly enriched the production.

A scene from “Maharathi”

A scene from “Maharathi”  

Even a school boy knows the tragic story of Karna but playwright Vibhanshu Vaibhav has imaginatively recreated the structure of “Maharathi” with deep insights into characters drawn from the Mahabharat. He has liberated his plot from the mythological trappings. He tries to imbue the play with the modernist view point that wars are fought on economic and political grounds by politicians and not for establishing Dharma. Krishna is projected as a politician who has tactical and strategic grasp of the Mahabharat war between the Pandavas and the Kauravas. As the abandoned son of the unwed mother, Karna is depicted as an ambitious youth with roots in lower strata of society, eternally struggling to discover his true identity. In this heroic journey, he is cheated, betrayed and insulted by an unjust social order controlled by Kshatriyas and Brahmins. When he challenges Arjuna in an open contest of valour, Kripacharya reminds him of his lower cast status, warning him that he cannot participate in a combat with high born prince Arjuna. Sworn enemy of the Pandavas, Kaurava Prince Duryodhana confers on him the title of royalty so that he could fight with Arjuna and inflict on him ignominious defeat. Again, he is insulted by Draupadi when he tries to participate in her swayamvar and his son is killed by Arjuna.

Well-knit script

Structurally, the script is well-knit, with every incident contributing to the exploration of the character of Karna. The playwright displays his flair with writing well-crafted dialogue pregnant with meaning. The transition from one scene to another is smooth, reinforcing the intensity of the dramatic conflict.

The set and properties are sparse which provides the performer with enough space to enact war scenes with intensely felt inner motives. The lighting is aptly used to deepen the tragic emotions evoked by the death of the hero who fights heroically to uphold his high ethical principles. Costumes have a touch of universality. The costumes of Krishna is not the ones we watch in most of the plays using Krishna as a character. Here he does not even wear peacock’s feathers.

The entire production is aptly cast throughout. In the role of Karna, Jatin Sarna gives a memorable performance. The strength of his performance lies in his restrained artistry. He internalises his anguish, bitterness and intense fury to revolt against a caste-ridden society, bursting out in the climactic scene which gives emotional shock to the audience. A graduate from National School of Drama and promising playwright, actor and director, Happy Ranjit as Krishna radiates his scenes with his impressive stage presence and his powerful dialogue delivery reflecting his inner motive as the messenger of the Pandavas and their supreme strategist. Sahil Singh Sethi as Duryodhana and Manisha as Kunti impart emotional depth to their portrayals .


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Printable version | Jul 29, 2021 3:15:49 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/theatre/a-victim-of-circumstances/article18864653.ece

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