Theatre

Sun is not set on the Parsi theatre

Rooted in tradition: A scene from “Veer Abhimanyu”

Rooted in tradition: A scene from “Veer Abhimanyu”  

In “Veer Abhimanyu”, director Hema Singh tweaked the technique of the traditional theatre form to suit the contemporary taste

Senior theatre practitioner Hema Singh is fascinated by Parsi theatre. As a writer, she has written about this tradition, which has played historical role to create the Hindustani stage, in depth. She has worked as a performer under the direction of the late B.M. Shah, former director of National School of Drama, as well as under the guidance of Master Fida Gussain “Narsi”, the legend of Parsi theatre. In fact, she played the vital role of Hemeeda in Pt. Radheshyam Kathawachak's “Mashriqui Hoor” with flying colours under the direction of Shah.

Sun is not set on the Parsi theatre

Another notable modern theatre practitioner of Parsi theatre is Nadira Babbar who retained some comic elements in “Yahudi Ki Ladki” by Aga Hashr Kashmiri with music score by Kajal Ghosh. These brief references are given to suggest that Parsi theatre was not only a commercial venture but it has vital elements which could contribute to the creation distinct Indian theatre idiom. With this background, it was a pleasure to watch Hema Singh's “Veer Abhimanyu” by Pt. Radheshyam Kathawachak, which the senior faculty at the NSD directed for second year students of NSD, presented recently at Abhimanch.

Ham acting and melodrama are essential elements of Parsi theatre, apart from use of several curtains which keep on changing with the change of scene to provide background for dramatic action. These curtains are painted mostly in garish colours. There used to be lapse of considerable time between the changes of scenes. To bridge this irritating pause, comic interludes were created to keep the audience in good humour. These interludes have hardly any relation with the main plot. Slick and visually spectacular, Hema's production did away with curtains and comic interludes. She has imbibed innovative elements from Shah's directorial treatment of Parsi theatre.

Hema's production reflects a modernist vision to be in tune with the aesthetic sensibility of modern audience. “Veer Abhimanyu” has a significant place in the history of Parsi theatre (1850-1950) which was written exclusively in Hindustani with elements of Sanskrit drama.

The set designed by Vishala Ramchandra Mahale, a graduate from NSD, created a metaphor for Chakravyuh – complex warfare strategy – with young Abhimanyu fighting with exceptional bravery against the united force of the Kauravas warriors. His design attempted to convey the thematic essence of the play by transcending realism, using expressionism and abstract imagery. There were ascending levels with stairs that linked the raised platform to the acting space down.

Upstage, there was a screen which indicated Veer Rasa through lighting effects and the all-round devastation created by the war. There are number of spaces enacting war scenes with multiple entry and exit points. With lighting effects, the action shiftted from one space to another swiftly, rhythmically and uninhibitedly.

Some of the scenes were enacted with remarkable finesse. One such scene was where veteran Kaurava warriors defeated by Abhimanyu break the code of war, resort to deception and kill an unarmed Abhimanyu.

The scene is enacted downstage with the display of martial art at its very best. With subtle lighting effect, the whole scene is transformed into surrealistic imagery that thrilled the audience. The scene where Jaydrath was killed was remarkable for evoking intense moods of revenge, hatred and despair. These contrasting moods produced a deep emotional impact.

Arjuna has taken pledge to destroy Jaydrath who is responsible for the death of his dear son Abhimanyu before sun set and in case he fails, he will offer himself to the burning pyre. In the horizon, the sun has almost set. There is gloom in the Pandavas camp. The pyre is set on the centre stage. Arjuna gets ready to fulfil his pledge. The Kauravas are in wild celebratory mood. Jaydrath emerges from his hiding, taunting Arjuna. Krishna smiles and tells Arjuna, “The sun has not yet set. Your target is just standing right before you.” The scene left the audience stunned.

The high pitch and exaggerated dialogue delivery form the style of Parsi theatre. It was toned down in the production under review. But still the essence of Parsi acting style was in evidence. Some of the leading male characters were performed by females. It was a thrilling experience to watch the young female students enacting war scenes, using martial art forms with a skill that highly impressed the audience.

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Printable version | Feb 25, 2020 3:34:52 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/theatre/sun-is-not-set-on-the-parsi-theatre/article30586516.ece

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