Voice of the oppressed

REALISTIC TAKE A scene from “Bala Goria”   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

Among amateur theatre groups formed by Delhi-based Uttarakhandis, Parvatiya Lok Kala Manch has been presenting plays at regular intervals. Over 30 years, some of its better known production includes “Kagaar Ki Aag”, an adaptation of Himanshu Joshi’s novel, “Rajula Malushahi”, an immortal folk-ballad and stage version of Dr Hari Suman Bisht’s novel “Aachari Maachari”. Its latest production is “Bala Goria” which was presented this past week at Pearey Lal Auditorium. As usual, the latest production also evoked encouraging response from the audience. Despite the fact that sketchy narrative, the tedious pace, the production offered some engaging moments, thanks to the life-affirming message and some beautiful musical tunes composed by veteran Kumaoni folk and classical Holi singer, Chanchal.

The script is written by Hem Pant, a founder member of the Kala Manch and cultural activist. Bala Goria, which is also known as Golu, is immensely popular in Kumaon, especially in Champawat and Chittai as the ultimate appeal for justice by the oppressed, hoping the powerful oppressor will be punished. In its long history of oppression of the hill masses during its feudal history and the British colonial rule, Golu temples offer glimpses of hope to survive torture inflicted by a heartless world.

There are various versions about the birth and his glory as the embodiment of justice, taking up cudgels on behalf of the aggrieved party. Some trace his origin to mythology. The play opens with terrified gods worshipping Lord Shiva to protect them from dreaded demons by be-getting a son. To lose his concentration on deep meditation, the services of Kamdev are used. An enraged Lord Shiva reduces Kamdev to ashes and assures his unbearably lamenting wife, Rati that she will have a most suitable husband in her next life. The mythological references to Bala Goria tend to be vague and incoherent. The general perception is that he is a folk hero that brings hope to the life of the men living in a soulless world. The convoluted narrative takes us to king Jhaalrai who rules Champawat Garhi bordering on Nepal. He is a powerful ruler with a number of local rulers accepting his suzerainty. His people are happy and prosperous but he is a worried king. Despite the fact that he has seven queens, he has no sons to be heir of his vast kingdom. A mythological strand emerges in action, he marries a young girl said to be the sister of Panchnama Deva. From the union of the ageing king and the young queen Goria is born and with his birth starts his struggle for survival from the court intrigues hatched by his malicious and revengeful stepmothers.

A scene from “Bala Goria”

A scene from “Bala Goria”   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

In a scene set in the forest, we watch king Jhaalrai accompanied by soldiers, encountering two strong buffaloes and finds too difficult to control. A physically exhausted king is thirsty, sends his escorts to fetch water from a nearby river who are stopped by a young girl, commanding them to bring their king to her. The king meets the girl and falls in love with her and soon they are happily married. Though the new queen is the sister of Panchnama Deva, a powerful deity, she is unable to offer any resistance and becomes vulnerable to the machinations of the old queens. The narrative unfolds in a straight forward manner. There is hardly any conflict.

Jointly directed by Ganga Datt Bhatt and Hem Pant, the emphasis is on the use of video projection. Far from providing the right backdrop for the action that could integrate the video and theatrical elements together into a holistic fashion, the visuals tend to be distracting and unrealistic. In several dramatic situations the massive projections on to screen of rivers and royal palaces reduced the impact of actors. The music drawn mainly from Kumaon folk music becomes at times loud and jarring. The costumes worn by young Goria remains the same even when he lives with his foster parents who are engaged in fishing and when the king accept him as his legal heir.

The encounter between Goria riding on his wooden horse and his stepmothers on the bank of the river is enacted in an abrupt manner. Young Goria exposes the conspiracy of his stepmothers to kill him, depriving the kingdom of an heir. The young boy asks his stepmothers to sit aside, to give way for his horse to drink water. The old queen laughs, saying, “How can a wooden horse drink water”? Quickly replies the prince, “Just as a woman gives birth to a stone slab and grinder, a wooden horse can bring water too.” Hearing the exposure of the conspiracy, the queens start trembling with fear because they took away the infant from the young queen, as soon she delivered, to be killed and showed the stone slab and grinder as the one given birth by the young queen. A gullible king believes his old queens. This scene needs fine tuning. The directors could have projected Goria as the symbol of hope of the oppressed and a source of inspiration to resist oppression rather than limiting him within the confines of mythology. The need is to resurrect Goria as a true folk hero fighting for the cause of the oppressed.

The play has lively dances and acting by seasoned performers of Uttarakhand stage. Ganga Datt Bhatt as sanyasi and foster father of Goria, Mahendra Natwal as Raja Jhaalrai, Laxmi Mahto as the foster mother, Hem Pant as one of the narrators and K N Pandey, in a variety of roles, give impressive performances.

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Printable version | May 11, 2021 5:07:19 PM |

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