Jagriti theatre's 'Yayati' : Conflicted souls and wilful hearts


Yayati, a production by Jagriti theatre group, will recreate the familiar narrative of the father who borrowed his son’s youth

This weekend, the Bengaluru-based Jagriti theatre group brings to us the story of Yayati, the character from The Mahabharata who exchanges his old age with his young son, Puru. Directed by Arundhati Raja, and penned by eminent playwright Girish Karnad, the play examines the moment of crisis that Puru’s decision sparks, and the dilemma it presents for him, his family, and Yayati. Excerpts from an email interview with Raja.

Yayati is an age-old myth, very strong in the Indian collective conscience. Is that why you saw a potential in it to bring it on stage?

Working in the genre of English language theatre, I am always looking for a script that is Indian but works for a pan-Indian and even a global audience. Girish Karnad presents stories from our epics in such a dramatic way that they call out to you as a director and yet challenge you to your full capacity.

Tell us of the form and stylisation of the production.

I first directed this play back in 2006 for a festival of Kannada playwrights. It was a version in the English translation by Karnad. My approach then was like the traditional Indian theatre format, with live music leading into scenes and background. The flow was slower. This time, I wanted to take a contemporary approach. I have concentrated on a faster pace, where the one sexual transgression sets the story off on a roller coaster ride. Although the play is set in ancient India, it has a simple, modern production design, but evokes the richness of that era. The costumes designed by G Jayanthi remind us of those ancient sculptures but yet are a modern mix of bright block colours with accessories in traditional kalamkari.

The set design is simple with the focus on a large bed around which all the action takes place. The lighting reflects the ‘lamp-lit corners’ where grandmothers sat, recounting stories of heroic deeds. The sound scape, composed by Prakash Sontakke, one of India’s award winning musicians, is based in classical Indian music of the Hindustani genre. It is used more as sound effects helping to build the tension or to defray it. There is no choreographed movement. However, entries and exits are maintained in a more traditional form, but movement within scenes is dialogue induced and more natural.

Jagriti theatre's 'Yayati' : Conflicted souls and wilful hearts
Could you tell us a little about the women in the play?

The four women characters in this play are any female actor’s dream. They do not hesitate for one moment to take their fate into their own hands. Devayani, Yayati’s Queen doesn’t hesitate to get her revenge, leaving the palace and turning to her father, Shukracharya for help. Sharmishta, Deviyani’s slave, takes her revenge on her mistress. An act that sets the roller coaster on its way. Then, there is Chitralekha, the new bride, the young Anga princess, trained in the arts and in warfare. Her first day in her in-laws’ palace takes a terrible turn and yet she tries so cleverly to bring her life back on track. Finally, there is Swarnalatha, the maid, who has survived her own sad story, and tries to help the young princess.

Have you stayed true to the script?

Many feel that a play should be adapted to make it easier for the audience. If we, as performers, are true and honest in our approach, an audience will never be confused. I never adapt a script. I wouldn’t dream of showing such disrespect to the playwright by changing the words of the script, unless that playwright is there during rehearsals and an interactive discussion takes place. If I feel that a play will not work for me or for the audience, I just do not take it on.

Jagriti theatre's 'Yayati' : Conflicted souls and wilful hearts
Jagdish Raja and you have been associated with theatre for over four decades and have created a space for theatre in Bengaluru. How are such spaces for performance arts essential?

In an age where it is no longer easy to go out and perform in open spaces or on street corners, spaces, dedicated to the performing arts are life savers. Jagriti is a fully equipped, 200-seater, offering a home for both traditional and innovative theatre. A space that asks you to ensure your production values are top notch because the audience is right there in your face — there’s nowhere to go, nowhere to hide!

Yayati will be performed at Rani Seethai Hall, Anna Salai (near Gemini Flyover) on March 16, 7.30 pm. Tickets are available at

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Printable version | Jan 19, 2020 11:05:45 PM |

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