View from the margins


In the performance Rashmirathi, the energy and the skill of the actor is infectious and grips the audience, but the performance is text heavy

Apna vikas avarudhdh dekh, Saare samaj ko kruddh dekh, Bheetar jab toot chuka tha mann, Aa gaya achaanak Duryodhan”

The above lines are an excerpt from an epic verse “Rashmirathi” written in Hindi by poet Ramdhari Singh “Dinkar”. The verse is performed as a dramatic monologue by V. Balakrishnan of Theatre Nisha under the same name (Rashmirathi). Offering a perspective of the Mahabharatha through Karna’s eyes, the actor transforms this written epic into a powerful spoken word eulogy on Karna by drawing on the rhyme and rhythmic quality of the verse. Performed at studio Swastika of Ahum Trust, the show marked the inauguration of their monthly “Saturday at Swastika” series.

The monologue gradually develops Karna’s portraiture by describing his encounters with other characters in the Mahabharatha. In contrast to the Pandavas whose personalities are deepened by their ethical dilemmas, Karna emerges as a man with a steely resolve and an ethical clarity one encounter at a time. Known to the society as the son of a charioteer, his dreams crumble under the weight of this identity when Duryodhana’s (who also appears under the name Suyodhana in this verse) embrace of friendship elevates his public perception. This becomes the turning point in Karna’s life framing his thoughts on Dharma, his ideologies and his actions. One finds that Krishna, Indra and Kunti all attempt to muddle this clarity through temptation, rhetoric and evoking pity respectively only to find themselves altered in the face of Karna’s magnanimity.

The first encounter is a gut wrenching scene, where the actor depicts the pain Karna bore as an insect dug through his flesh just to let his teacher, Parashurama rest peacefully on his lap. In return he gets a retort from his teacher, accusing him of betrayal and is cursed that in the moment of his greatest need, he shall forget all he has learnt from Parashurama. Setting the stage for what is to follow, this scene already establishes the social reality of Karna’s identity. As the story picks up momentum, the audience is made agonizingly aware of the injustice meted out to Karna. Like the other characters of the epic, the audience too sits facing this man with a steely resolve who is expected to fight on unfair grounds. In this moment of confrontation, the life of Karna, becomes a metaphor echoing the life of the marginalized.

Castaway by his biological mother Kunti, Karna begins his life on an unfair note. He is penalized for his caste by his teacher Parashuram, his shield is taken away by Indra, a promise of not killing four of the Pandavas is extracted off him by Kunti and yet in his most vulnerable moment when he is unarmed with his chariot stuck in the battle ground, he is killed by Arjuna. Though the actor is largely seen embodying the role of Karna, he plays every other role too, often spatially demarcating one character from the other. Apart from the monologue, the actor sculpts the scenes through his gaze, precise gestures and facial expressions. However, though the energy and the skill of the actor is infectious and grips the audience, the performance is extremely text heavy.

Since spoken word is as much about the unspoken, the actor could have made use of silences and pauses which apart from punctuating the performance could have also been employed as a powerful tool.

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Printable version | Jan 21, 2020 3:06:33 PM |

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