Conversations between Eklavya and Abhimanyu

A new Marathi staging of Abishek Majumdar’s Kaumudi will be performed next month

A new Marathi staging of Abishek Majumdar’s Kaumudi will be performed next month   | Photo Credit: Photographer: Wenceslaus Mendes


This year, a new Marathi staging of Abhishek Majumdar’s Kaumudi, is making inroads in Goa, where it has been performed at sporadic venues. Directed by Kaustubh Naik, who has also translated the play himself, it remains true to Majumdar’s vision for the most part, although there has been some tweaking of cultural references and an attempt to adapt the play to a Goan locale — in part necessitated by the fact that its first show took place at Panjim’s Kala Academy, a performance space situated on the banks of a river, just like the fictional venue in the play itself.

In many ways, the antecedents of the Hauns Sangeet Natya Mandal, the ages-old Goan theatre company under the aegis of which Kaustubh is staging Kaumudi, lends itself to the play’s intriguing meta-theatre ethos — one that is entrenched in a popular theatrical idiom similar to the Marathi sangeet natak classics Hauns toured with in its early years. The Nilima Theatres of Majumdar’s imagination, that thrived in the Allahabad of the 1960s, was a popular repertory company with long-running productions that attracted respectable turnouts. Indeed, Eklavya aur Abhimanyu, the purported masterwork that is staged during the running time of the play, is a three-night-long extravaganza that has its audiences eating out of the hands of its hallowed thespians, even though one is slowly being driven to hysterical blindness and imminent retirement. For this ‘play within the play’, Majumdar was inspired by a conversation between Eklavya and Abhimanyu, both particularly conflicted characters from the Mahabharata, that he encountered in the Malayalam text, Vyasam Vigneswaram, by Anand.

Meta dramatics

The play’s meta elements also includes a surfeit of Shakespearean essences. There is a nod, perhaps, to Hamlet, with the star-crossed father-son dynamic, or the constant visitation by ghosts, or a scene with comic ‘gravediggers’ clad in sack-cloth (their garlands of skulls not quite a subtle invocation of the bard’s tried-and-tested tropes). The meta-play lampoons ye olde performing traditions of India — it is a stage on which melodrama in broad brushes is rife and the coda must necessarily comprise of blood, sweat and tears in ample measure. It smacks of an upper class upbraiding of a form of mass entertainment, that flies in the face of the conceit that deliverance lies on this very stage for inveterate theatre-goers who return each night (and should never actually be expected to be mere slouches in the spectating department).

In the hands of Majumdar’s original actors — Kumud Mishra as the ageing Satyasheel; Sandeep Shikhar as his son Paritosh who is taking over the father’s mantle — the play delivers masterful sound and fury, but there is little pause and precious little silence. Mishra foists a laboured frenzy upon his performance, rambling, wheezing, wallowing, never quite heroic except when in character as Eklavya’s ghost. We would pay to watch him in his quieter moments, because here is an actor, the majesty of whose mere presence speaks volumes. Kaumudi’s faint failings of sensibility in its original production can be put down to a playwright handling his own material (a contemporary classic, if ever), and not entirely deftly at that.

Theatrical heritage

Kaustubh’s outing is sufficiently buttressed by his being a third-generation theatre-maker in a company that has completed nearly 70 years of its existence. Hauns was founded in 1950, when Goa was still governed by the Portuguese. Under the stewardship of Kaustubh’s grandfather, the theatre doyen Vishwanath Naik, the company staged popular Marathi musical classics such as Saubhadra, Matsyagandha, Maanapmaan or Saunshaykallol. Even today, Hauns stages contemporary versions of the mythologicals with which they had once extensively toured Goa, often performing in makeshift stages resplendently set up in front of village temples.

The group also founded the 2,500-seater Hanuman Theatre in Ponda, where ticketed shows, a harbinger of change in Goan theatre-going culture, soon became ubiquitous. Emerging from such a background, Kaustubh is much more ambivalent about the play’s treatment of the world of Nilima Theatres. “I did move away from the caricaturisation in the ‘play within the play’, although we do still employ a theatrical style that stands out from the rest of the production, as Abhishek had intended,” he says. He borrowed elements of acting from the corresponding period, which his group is familiar with, creating a rooted and authentic delineation of Kaumudi’s several period set-pieces.

The recent passing away of his father, Somnath Naik, provided Kaustubh an emotional connect with the script. “It is the rites of passage from a father to a son that comes out most evocatively from the text, albeit in a very different context than mine, of course,” he says. His father, who had started work on the translation, wanted to adapt Kaumudi to the local ethos in Goa, but did not leave many notes behind — just a few highlighted passages in a manuscript. Ultimately, Kaustubh has relied on his own instincts to deliver the text to a Marathi-speaking audience. The play was in production for two whole months, but it was only in the last week that it came together. Majumdar’s complex script, with its contemporaneous outlook despite the period setting, proved to be a challenge for Kaustubh’s actors, who were used to the simplistic narratives prevalent in mainstream Marathi theatre. The juxtaposition of this text, performed by actors not ordinarily given to such experimental work, with a robust old-fashioned proscenium-style staging that mirrors the play’s innate ethos but not the minimalist setting that Majumdar builds into its structure, throws up the kinds of collisions that could decidedly make Kaustubh’s Kaumudi an artistic oddity to savour, if only for the politics of transference involved.

The next performance of Kaumudi will take place at Ponda, Hauns Sangeet Natya Mandal, on March 18.

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Printable version | Jan 18, 2020 3:23:37 PM |

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