Theatre

The epic in-betweeners

A touch of grandeur: Faezeh Jalali incorporates traditional performing arts into the production.

A touch of grandeur: Faezeh Jalali incorporates traditional performing arts into the production.  

A production that contemporises a story from the Mahabharata to explore gender identity

Because it is mostly unaddressed, our discomfort with matters pertaining to the third gender is palpable. But our bards of old weren’t half as shy to acknowledge and include such individuals in their stories. The Mahabharata offers several examples of people who are neither male nor female. Vyasa’s magnum opus makes a case for Arjuna becoming Brihannala, Krishna becoming Mohini, and King Ila becoming a woman. But the most remarkable story is perhaps that of Shikhandi.

Rooted in myth

Faezeh Jalali’s Shikhandi — The Story of In-Betweens is a comic, tongue-in-cheek, retelling of the story of Shikhandi, who is perhaps one of the earliest trans-characters known in mythology. She plays a crucial part in winning the battle of Kurukshetra for the Pandavas. The play was a runner-up at the Sultan Padamsee Award for Playwriting 2016, which aims to celebrate new voices emerging from Indian theatre.

Old myth, new light

It is Shikhandi’s complex and inspiring story that Jalali chooses to contemporise and present as a play with her talented troupe which includes artistes like Meher Acharia-Dar, Mahnaz Damania, Vikrant Dhote, Karan Desai, Nikhil Murali and Srishti Srivastava. The play is being produced by Jalali’s theatre company, FATS TheArts, in association with the National Centre for the Performing Arts (NCPA). Jalali is a well-known persona on the theatre circuit and has acted in several Bollywood films. But her first love remains the stage. Deepa Gahlot, Theatre and Film Head, NCPA, says of Jalali, “The NCPA decided to support this play because Faezeh’s work is both, edgy and meaningful … This play explores gender issues that are not just relevant, but also adventurous in form.”

Jalali’s own tryst with Shikhandi’s story began in 2010, when she created a 20-minute one-man show for a physical theatre and dance programme in Germany. But eventually, she added more layers to it, until it became a full-fledged play. “When I first created the piece in 2010, I added my own quirks to tell the story. I wanted to look at the non-heroic aspects of the heroes, and highlight the achievements of the underdog. Gradually, it evolved as a piece that was funny but questioned our current prejudices about gender and sexuality. Since we are looking at the Mahabharata’s characters in a different light, it will help the audience draw parallels with people in our current socio-political world,” says the actor-playwright.

Mixed bag

Even as Jalali desired a contemporary take on the story, she was aware of a certain need for formality. It is, after all, a story from the grandest of Indian epics, and set in ancient India. To be able to maintain that touch of grandeur and authenticity, Jalali chose to incorporate certain traditional forms of Indian performing arts into her production.

Watch out for the traditional elements of koodiyattam, kalaripayattu, and yakshagana in the play. These traditional forms from south India are still practised in their unadulterated forms, replete with graceful mudras, intricate moves and elaborate costumes. The koodiyattam, for example, is one of the oldest forms of Sanskrit theatre from Kerala, which was performed in temples and dealt with themes from the epics and puranas. Switching between the classic and the modern, Jalali’s artistes strike the perfect balance. The cast has, undergone special training sessions to learn these art forms. The music employed is fusion too, with both Indian and Western instruments being used.

Expect a little learning and a lot of entertainment from this play.

Shikhandi — The Story of In-Betweens is being staged today and tomorrow at the Experimental Theatre, NCPA. Details on bookmyshow.com

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Printable version | Jul 11, 2020 10:32:46 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/theatre/the-epic-in-betweeners/article17566740.ece

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