Theatre

‘Priyadarshika’ to bring to the fore the richness of Sanskrit theatre

Blurring the boundaries A romantic scene from the play  

Professor K.S. Rajendran’s forte is bringing to the fore the rich legacy of Sanskrit theatrical art. In the past we have seen his excellent productions of Sanskrit classics. His latest offering is Harsha’s “Priyadarshika” in Pandit Ramchandra Mishra’s Hindi translation which was presented by the second year students of the National School of Drama at Bahumukh auditorium recently.

According to the director, this time round he has taken up “second rank dramatic” work. The playwright Harsha or Harshwardhan was a powerful ruler of the 7th century and was a great patron of literature and arts. Apart from Priyadarshika, he has written two more plays – “Ratnawali” and “Naganand”. Being a ruler, his world view is limited to kings, their romances and the wars they fought. All these elements are beautifully synthesised in “Priyadarshika” to create an aesthetically gripping production, celebrating the fulfilment of true love.

The action takes place against the backdrop of war in which king Dridhavuraman is made prisoner and his daughter goes underground to escape the enemy. Her name is Aaranyaka who is given shelter in the kingdom of Vatsaraj and Queen Vasavdatta is assigned the duty to become her guardian until she attains the marriageable age. Both the king and queen are not aware of her true identity. The entire action takes place in the royal palace. In the first half, we watch the routine activities taking place in the royal palace with attendants running errands for royalty with servility, adhering etiquette. The king, in the company of Vasantaka Vidhushak, takes round in a leisurely manner. Meanwhile, he gets glimpses of Aranyaka from a distance. It is love at first sight. He shares his love for a young girl, who is endowed with exquisite beauty and is also delicate and shy. Vasantaka’s official duty is to be the yes man of the king and to encourage him in his pursuit of romance. Once, queen Vasavdatta, in the company of her female attendants, watches the king engrossed in his romantic game of hide-and-seek with Aaranyaka. She watches how the king is totally engrossed in looking into the eyes of Aaranyaka. The queen becomes furious to watch the romantic entanglement of the king.

The dramatic conflict gradually deepens in the second part. Preparations are being done for the staging of a play before the members of royalty and high dignitaries. The play to be staged is a romantic one in which Aaranyaka is being featured as a heroine who is in love with a prince. The king and the queen are to be among the guests. As soon as the play starts, the queen is already present among the audience but the king is not seen. In one of the scenes in the play within the play, the heroine is desperate to have her union with her prince charming.

After a pause, he enters. As the play moves forward, the queen identifies the king who is himself playing the role of the lover, replacing the actor cast in the role. However, her aide ensures her that king is not playing the role of the lover of the heroine. But towards the end, the truth comes to light.

The director highlights the device of play within the play in the Sanskrit dramatic art which he calls ‘Garbhanataka’ which was in practice from ancient times. In the play under review, it plays a vital role to deepen the conflict, exploring the element of jealousy in a wife who watches her husband indulging in acts of betrayal. An intrinsic part of the main theme, it evokes beautiful imagery juxtaposed with sensuousness, anxiety and suspense.

Queen’s blessings

The play has a happy ending, celebrating the marriage of Aaranyaka to the king with the blessing of the queen when she comes to know that she is the daughter of the deposed king who is one of her kith and kin and now whose kingdom is restored to him.

The choreography of Lokesh Bharadwaj is marked by luxuriant visuals. The loveliness of the stylised moments added charm by the colourful and aesthetically designed costumes by seasoned designer Amba Sanyal. The multiple hues created by lighting effects designed by Souti Charkraborty and music by P. V Boopathy and Shyam Rastogi enriched the highly emotive imageries. The harmony of all these expressive theatrical elements creates a production, which is finely tuned.

Rajesh Singh, an actor and director who graduated from NSD and trained as a designer from London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts, has designed the set. He displays ingenuity to use the space in the intimate Bahumukh auditorium, providing enough space for performers, suggesting locales where action takes place.

The entry and exit are indicated with pillars on which a variety of motifs are engraved suggesting the historical period in which the action is set.

Infatuated with king

P. Rita Devi as Aaranyaka creates a sensitive portrait of a young girl, beautiful and shy infatuated with the charm of the king. Saquib Shaikh as Vatsraj in love with Aaranyaka and Payal Pande as Vasavdatta, the queen, suspecting the infidelity of her husband, act admirably.

Amir Khan as Vasantaka, the Brahmin who gives the king company as his confidant, provides lighter moments to the audience, displaying talent to create humour through his facial expressions, body movements and style of holding his crooked stick.

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Printable version | Feb 28, 2021 1:12:06 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/theatre/priyadarshika-a-tale-of-true-love/article25623204.ece

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