Celebration of theatre

Blending Bundelkhandi art forms: A scene from “Saadhu Aur Sundari”  

Bikaner is generally known for its forts, palaces, the Karni Mata Temple, sweets and spicy snacks. What is little known is its vibrant theatre landscape and discerning audience. This fact is vividly illustrated by the five-day Bikaner Theatre Festival 2020 which ended recently and featured five plays daily at different auditoriums across the town. It is a matter of pride for the theatre lovers of Bikaner that it has more than five auditoriums available to amateur theatre groups at nominal rental charges.

One of the prestigious events of Rajasthan, the theatre festival was dedicated to eminent theatre director-playwright Bhanu Bharti who has created a number of theatrical milestones like “Pashu Gayatri”, “Chandrama Singh urf Chamku”, “Andha Yug” and “Tughlaq” in his more than four-decade-long creative life.

Most of the plays staged at the festival painted realistic picture of the existing social life and a few captured mythological imagery and recreated folk themes. The thematic variety and impressive presentational styles stimulated, moved and entertained the audience. One of the plays “Saadhu Aur Sundari”, presented by the Department Drama And Theatre, Raja Man Singh Tomar Music and Arts University, Gwalior, explored farcical elements against the backdrop of rural landscape of Bundelkhand .

Fillip to folk

Adapted by Dr. Himanshu Dwivedi from Mahakavi Bodhayana's “Bhagavadajjukam”, “Saadhu Aur Sundari” is a farce which is frequently staged by a number of directors in different versions. In English, the play is popularly known as “The Hermit and the Harlot”. The Bundelkhandi version under the direction of Dr. Dwivedi is set in Swang style, a folk theatre form, which imparted fluidity to the action, enhancing the pace of the production. The director has also synthesised other elements of the folk theatre of the region like Badhai, Raee, Naurat and Jhijhiya. An array of folk musical instruments accompanied the vocalists.

The main characters include a hermit, a disciple, a courtesan and her lady attendant, messenger of Lord Yama and a hopelessly misfit rural physician invited to cure a snake-bite patient. All these caricatures interact in a way that creates farcical situations which evoke laughter long and loud. The hermit is more concerned with his own spiritual upliftment, ignoring what is happening around him. His disciple, seemingly a simpleton, became a monk simply to get enough food and at one stage had an infatuation for a courtesan. However, the device of transmigration of the hermit’s soul into the body of the courtesan and courtesan’s soul into the body of hermit create hilarious moments. The blending of Bundelkhandi traditional art forms makes the production visually and aurally fascinating. Rahul Shaaky as the disciple, Narendra Singh Chauhan as the hermit and Seema Soni as the courtesan with mischievous charm, are eminently comic.

From Chittorgarh, director Narain Sharma brought Turra Kalangi which is a popular form to convey earthy humour and the message of social harmony. Two rival groups of performers, one representing Lord Shiva and another female figure which is the embodiment of invincible power. Through their full-throated musical rendering in a form derived from Khyala to the accompaniment of vigorous dances try to establish the superiority of their respective divine image. In fact, Turra and Kalangi are two ornaments which are attached to royal turban to add splendour. Using aggressive gestures, high-pitched rendering of dialogue at places, the performers establish a lively rapport with the audience. The verbal acrobatics of rivals are as much retaliatory as these are replete with wit and humour. In its original form, the show lasts for hours, regaling hundreds of spectators, frequently indulging in unsavoury dialogues, insulting rival parties.

Communal harmony

In the production under review, the rivals finally reconcile and accept the need for gender equality and convey the message of communal harmony.

Kalandar, Jaipur presented “Bhanwarya Kalet”, which is written and directed by Sikandar Khan. The play depicts Mirasi people of Rajasthan languishing in misery because their traditional occupation of ballad singing and entertainment has almost sunk into oblivion. The play opens on a note of suspense but it is not sustained long enough. The production hardly acquires dramatic momentum and the pace is slow.

However, the director has created the right ambience in which Mirasi family is condemned to survive as a scrap dealer and forced to allow anti-social elements to use their dingy room as a dumping place for their useless material.

Since Mirasi culture is rich in music, the director could have used background music to reinforce the stark pessimism that permeates the production. The narrative is too straightforward to create dramatic conflict. The stage is too cluttered to allow performers to move unhindered.

Sikandar Khan as the scrap dealer deeply attached to his dumb brother and desperately trying to salvage family's sinking fortunes and Moin Khan as the brother give impressive performances.

Vijay Kumar Travelling Box Theatre, Goa staged “Thank You, Dadaji” which is written and directed by Vijay Kumar Naik. The play unfolds in the centre of a hall with audience on four sides which could be described as an arena stage. The production is remarkable for its sensitive treatment of the world of a lonely aged widower.

An austere production, it is rich in suggestion. The element of suspense holds the interest of the audience. The action moves forward rhythmically to a climax that has happy ending, affirming that man is essentially good at heart. Vijay Nayak as the lonely old man and Sagar Pednekar as the thief masquerading as a grandson give brilliant performances with intense concentration on the delineation of their characters with subtle touches.

Written by Manish Joshi, directed by Suvojit Bandhopdhay and presented by Theatre Shine, Kolkata, “Thirsty Crow Returns” is one of the fine productions of the festival. School Children know about the story of a thirsty crow who managed to quench its thirst by picking pebbles one by one and dropping them into a pitcher half-filled with water. In the play under review, the new generation crow has a wider vision of life and is desperate to get a respected place in the community of forest animals and birds. With the help of its friend, a little girl, it succeeds in his bitter struggle.

It has captivating music, colourful costumes and choreographic patterns that exude vitality. The outlandish masks are harmonised into an artistic whole.

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Printable version | Feb 27, 2021 1:19:05 AM |

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