Friday Review

River reflects human foibles

A WELL MEANING PLAY A scene from “Karmanasha Ki Haar”.

A WELL MEANING PLAY A scene from “Karmanasha Ki Haar”.  

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Hanu Yadav’s “Karmanasha Ki Haar” is a severe indictment of superstition and feudal values, says Diwan Singh Bajeli

Against the backdrop of river Karmanasha in spate threatening to inundate vast rural landscape, the play “Karmanasha Ki Haar”, which was presented by Pancham Theatre Group at New Delhi’s Shri Ram Centre this past week, is a severe indictment of superstition and moribund feudal values.

Adapted and directed by Hanu Yadav, a graduate from National School of Drama and senior stage director, the play is adapted from Shiv Prasad Singh’s short story with the same title. An eminent writer and recipient of Sahitya Akademi award, the story depicts social injustice inherent in social stratification based on caste, widespread superstition and desperation of the people threatened by the fury of river Karmanasha, which flows through Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. There is deep-rooted misconception among the masses about this river that is believed to be the destroyer of good deeds and when in spate it is said to be pacified only by offering human sacrifice. The story destroys this misconception, asserting human dignity. The stage version written by Hanu projects the basic humanistic content of the story with conviction.

Hanu is known for staging Hindi classics on the stage. He had adapted and directed Hazari Prasad Dwivedi’s novels. Earlier, he had directed Shiv Prasad Singh’s novel “Gali Aage Mudti Hai”. To capture the local colour in the production of “Karmanasha Ki Haar”, he has used folk songs of Awadh.

In fact, the devastation caused by the fury of floods have echoed through folk songs and creative works. One of the outstanding work in this context could be mentioned is “Jal Damroo”, a play written by Sangeet Natak Akademi awardee Rameshwar Prem which was directed by Ram Gopal Bajaj for National School of Drama in 2008. The play had several shows in Maithili directed by Prakash Jha. Bajaj's production is enriched by folk songs composed by Sanjay Upadhyay. “Jal Damroo” illustrated that the antagonism between classes and castes could not be resolved even in the face of imminent death. In contrast, “Karmanasha Ki Haar” highlights the inherent nobility of man on display at the time of social, political and emotional crisis. It is Man in Karmanasha who defeats accursed river.

The play opens with village head instructing his domestic help to make necessary arrangement for the grand feast for his guests. The feast is over and the guests are being entertained by traditional performers. Before the show is over, a woman arrives on the scene, warning the head and his guests that river Karamansha is in spate and soon it will inundate the entire village. She affirms that to escape from the wrath of the river, the villagers must propitiate it by offering human sacrifice. The gathering concludes that the cause of the fury of the river is sinful act of some of the villagers. They decide to discover the one who has committed terrible sin and the only means of pacifying the angry river is to sacrifice the sinner. The fear of angry river sets off a chain reaction.

Director Hanu has used folk songs and poetry. Apart from chorus, there are two narrators who give us some idea about the plot to be unfolded in the coming scenes. They render theme song “E Bari Nadiya Jeeya Le Ke Maane…”, conveying that the river demands human sacrifice but it will not kill king nor queen. Its victim will be a Dalit. The production is marred by certain flaws. The transition from the first scene to the next tends to be abrupt. There are about 30 members of the cast. The mass scenes, which are very significant in the play, need fine tuning. The music though an important element of the production, is not adequately blended with the basic structure of the production. Director’s realistic style tends to limit itself to the surface. What is needed is to create a subtle ambience to penetrate the inner world of the characters. The use of tree without leaves might have borrowed from Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot”, an allegory of an enigmatic liberator who keeps the spiritually crippled humanity waiting, waiting and waiting for his arrival. In “Karmanasha Ki Haar” the saviour is very much present who saves the infant and the mother and defeats the dreaded river. The allegory used in the theatre of the absurd is not apt in the case of the production under review.

Among the large cast, Lakshy Goel is aptly cast in the role of lame Brahman who challenges an unjust and obscurantist system based on feudalism. He delivers his lines with inner motivation and dramatic force. Rajesh Bakshi is a well known actor on the Delhi stage. As the village head he adds substance to his character. Vijay Kumar as the domestic help of the head of the village keeps broom with him all the time in a playful mood which tends to be distracting. Manisha plays two roles — female member singers party and widow forced to die with her infant in the river in spate. As a singer she is vivacious and as widow she creates the telling image of a frightened woman with her infant condemned as the sinner.

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Printable version | Dec 9, 2019 10:03:41 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/River-reflects-human-foibles/article14628601.ece

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