Theatre

A life in verse

HISTORY AND VERSE A scene from the play ’ Vemana’. Photo: G. Krishnaswamy   | Photo Credit: G_Krishnaswamy

Vemana's verses cover a great variety of topics and problems such as religion, social differences, and life. His satire is poignant and piercing, due to his righteous indignation for sham ideals and his fervour for speedy social and human reconstruction. Attracted by the simplicity of these verses, C.P. Brown of the Indian Civil Service, during the British era, translated them into English (around 1825). But the historical evidence of Vemana's birth and his period continues to daunt the historians, due to lack of records.

A Telugu film made in the forties by noted director K.V. Reddy with Chitoori Nagaiah playing Vemana seems to be the yardstick for later-day writers. It is now the turn of mythological theatre artiste Gummadi Gopalakrishna to put it on stage with the help of another theatre great, Burra Subrahmanya Sastry, who penned the script. This was staged at Ravindra Bharati last week by Gopalakrishna's Satyasai Kala Niketan under the aegis of Chaitanya Art Theatres.

Heavily made-up Vemana was shown as the brother of Kumaragiri Anavemareddi, ruler of Kondaveedu. The first court scene showed Vemana hurling a flower at the courtesan Viswada, negating court traditions. Abhirama was a close friend of Vemana. Thus the two names ‘Viswada' and ‘Abhirama' made place in the fourth line of each verse of Vemana – Viswadaabhirama Vinura Vema. The play was loaded with umpteen needless verses, other than Vemana's poems. For example, a temple priest confronts a bizarre-looking illiterate low-caste devotee and scolds him in an untenable classical poem for seeking entry into the temple. But Vemana forces this devotee's entry into temple, brushing aside the priest.

There was a routine love scene later between Viswada and Vemana and ended with Viswada requesting the latter to fetch the nose ornament ‘mukkera' belonging to the queen. However, the queen laid down a condition that Vemana should see Viswada naked. After a series of events, wisdom dawned on him and started hating himself for craving for her body till then. The preaching of a Siva Yogi turned him away further from these mortal pleasures. He was now ‘Yogi Vemana'.

From then on, Vemana began commenting through simple popular verses on the fallacies in different walks of life, including Brahminic rituals like ‘Pinda Pradanam' to their dead. The play ended with Yogi Vemana attaining ‘Samadhi'. These couplets of Vemana with caustic satire drew repeated applause more because of the content in the verse.

It was a slow-paced drama with stale and scanty dialogue. Some of the scenes like the ‘Pinda Pradanam' were dramatised to nauseating levels. The ‘mukkera' giving scene and the condition laid by the queen herself lacked sense. Gopalakrishna's portrayal of Vemana was interesting only in the end, that too because of the punch in the original verses.

Surabhi Prabhavati as the courtesan lent colour to the show with her coquettish performance. P.V. Subba Rao as Anavemareddi, Padmapriya as the queen Narasamamba and Salvachari as the royal priest gave routine performances.

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Printable version | Jan 28, 2021 10:33:37 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/theatre/A-life-in-verse/article16343099.ece

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