Friday Review

Of past, present and future

A scene from “07/07/07”.

A scene from “07/07/07”.

Over the years, a large body of experimental works have been produced by theatre practitioners to reflect contemporary sensibility. We have witnessed many such experimental efforts, some of which were pretentious and some aimed to revive obscurantist feudal ideas. Viewed in this context, “Akshayambara” in Kannada presented by Dramanon as part of Mahindra Excellence in Theatre Awards (META) is a tour de force. The synthesis of form and content and the unaffected gripping narrative create a theatrical piece that leaves a richer and deeper impact on the audience.

Written by Sharanya Rampraksh who also directs the play, “Akshayabara” is a play within a play. It opens in the green room with a male actor preparing to play the role of Draupadi. A young woman enters the room. Engrossed in giving finishing touches to his make-up and costumes, the male actor gets angry to discover the intruder trying to dress up to play the role of Dushasana to enact the scene from the Mahabharata to disrobe Draupadi. Enraged, the male actor challenges the audacity of a woman to play the male role, a character in the Mahabharata in which women are not even allowed to play female roles. This drama is being enacted offstage and on the stage Dushasana’s most shameful attempt at stripping Draupadi’s sari is about to be enacted.

The scenes from these two plots keep on juxtaposing, exploring gender issue – the issue of Draupadi’s confrontation with male-dominated society and the protest of the female performer daring to challenge a patriarchal society.

The production is designed imaginatively to make visible to the audience both the offstage and onstage scenes from the Mahabharata. On one side of the down stage an elaborate orchestra and singers as part of conventional Yakshagana art form are aesthetically placed. Though Yakshagana elements are visually and aurally captivated the audience, the feminist point of view formed the core in both the plots. The drama enacted in the green room is remarkable for emotional restraint which is felt with intensity.

Prasad Cherkady, the male actor playing the role of Draupadi, gives an outstanding performance. His Draupadi confronts her tormentor with courage, challenging the right of her husband Yudhishthira to gamble on her. When he is out of the character of Draupadi and reacts as the male performer to the female playing the role of Dushasan, he acts with restraint, reflecting a masochistic view. Towards the end his gentle gestures and silence indicate the resolution of the conflict in a subtle manner – there is nothing superfluous in his portrait only intense concentration to bring to the fore the calm that is achieved with reconciliation and to come to terms with the changing times. Sharanya Ramprakash as the actress playing the role of Dushasan gives a riveting performance and when out of the male character she presents the feminist view in a forceful manner.

Haoai – The Eleventh Planet

The absurdity of human condition and a deep urge to discover a new planet to lead a life of freedom to escape emptiness and meaninglessness of the world is the central idea of “Haoai- The Eleventh Planet”.

The play is adapted in Bengali by Ratan Das from “The Eleventh Planet” by Evald Flisar, a significant Slovenian writer. The play has only three characters and is set against the backdrop of a huge abstract painting. The action takes place in a single set. The characters – two male and one female – tend to be tramps who appear on the stage with bags containing some belongings and stay in a place with blocks. Mobile phones are their precious possessions. They keep on changing the positions of the block, giving them different shapes. They are desperate to land to the eleventh planet to enable them to live a meaningful life escaping from the absurdities of the world. They create an illusory atmosphere about them, talking on their mobile phones to the inhabitants of the eleventh planet. They talk too much, often indulging in heated debates. The world in which they live offers them no hope, it is desolate.

We have seen tramps in Samuel Brecht’s play “Waiting For Godot”, ‘an elusive tragic farce’ who keep on waiting for Godot and the play leaves a deep pessimistic impact. The characters in Haoai tend to remain in illusion of visiting their dream planet.

The play is directed by Goutam Halder. It is verbose and there is little action. Dialogues are the main source of communication of the idea of the play – the metaphysical anguish of humanity.

Through the brief exit and entry of the characters, their movements and the way they remove blocks from one place and put them to another, the director ensures action on the stage. The characters are motivated with a single idea – the desire to visit Haonai. The treatment of offstage music imparts the production delicate texture to reflect the ebb and flow of the hopes and despair of the characters. The lighting effects by Debashis Chakraborty transform the production into a metaphor of a disillusioned world. Dyuti Ghosh as the female character and Santanu Ghosh as the youngest character bring to the fore the various emotional facets of their characters.

07/07/07

Group improvisations and elements of physical theatre with subtle lighting design create visual imagery that projects the tortured life of Reyhaneh Jabbari in jail. A young interior decorator, Jabbari meets Dr. Sarbandi on July 7, 2007 and hence the title of the play, “07/07/07”. Jabbari is full of life and a bright future is awaiting her. But the meeting with Dr. Sarbandi ruined her life. He tries to rape her and in the process he gets killed and Jabbari is imprisoned on the charge of killing Dr. Sarbandi. After a torturous process of flawed investigation, subjecting her to heart-breaking torture in solitary confinement, she is executed by hanging in October 2014. Her death evoked protest from human right activists.

Produced by Fats The Arts Collaborative, the play is directed by Faezeh Jalali, transforming the entire auditorium as the stage for action.

The emotionally-charged group of performers move from one space to another on the stage as well as in the auditorium, breaking the concept of the fourth wall, creating intricate visuals exuding the dark world of female prisoners. The inmates have no exit from this hell and condemned to rot bit by bit.

All these images are harmonised to create an artistic whole. The fine ensemble cast and the synthesis of various expressive means offer the audience moments of searing pathos.


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Printable version | Jul 4, 2022 3:32:50 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/of-past-present-and-future/article8418483.ece