Theatre

Bound by desire

Bound by desire: A still from 'Hayavadana.'   | Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

As Erin B. Mee notes in her book ‘Theatre of Roots,' Girish Karnad's seminal play ‘Hayavadana' (1971) became the poster play for the then emerging ‘roots movement,' immediately after it was published. Karnad brought into it various strands of narrative, making it a complex text to perform. At one level, the play deals with the age-old debate of self, while at another level it portrays the nation's attempt to break free from the tags of cultural domination imposed by the colonial past. The play draws liberally from the structure of Yakshagana and weaves many parallel narratives in concentric designs around the central plot.

But the production by Magic Theatre, directed by Vijayakumar Prabhakaran, which was staged in Kochi recently, focussed on the central plot – the witty, beautiful Padmini and her relation with her two bosom friends, Devadatta and Kapila. Padmini is married to Devadutta, the poet and scholar, but she yearns for his friend Kapila, who is physically more attractive.

Beyond lust

“My focus was on human desire, which is never satiated. One leads to another, and so I treated Padmini's craving for Kapila's physical strength as not arising from mere lust. It is, instead, an image of human desire,” says the director.

Depressed by the knowledge of Kapila's and Padmini's love for each other, Devadatta beheads himself before Goddess Kali. Kapila follows suit, knowing well that he would be blamed for Devadatta's death. Goddess Kali stops a pregnant Padmini from committing suicide. Instead, she gives her a boon to revive the dead if their severed heads are united with their bodies. Here, Padmini tries to fulfil her desire by transposing heads. Her life gets complicated from that point onwards, culminating in friends killing each other and Padmini committing suicide.

The director chose to underplay the story of Hayavadana, the man with the head of a horse. In the original play, this character appears as a representative of a nation in transition. It could not let go of its heritage or its colonial baggage. As a result, it could not decide on its true identity. It continues its search for completion – either as a horse or as a man.

“Another aspect of the original text was a discussion on caste (Devadatta is a Brahmin and Kapila is a blacksmith), and the tension caused by it. I believe this to be a bit outdated, in the modern social context and so did not focus on it,” says Vijayakumar.

An alumnus of the Department of Theatre, Sree Sankaracharya University of Sanskrit, Vijayakumar succeeded in driving home the points he wanted to highlight, by intelligent use of theatrical devices. For instance, the use of shadows on a white screen that dominated the upstage. Characters that appear as shadows appear on stage in the flesh in no time leaving the audience wondering what is real and what is not.

Another dimension

Karnad had also used Ganapathi to analyse the issue of the head being the ruler of the body – a decision that ends Kapila's (with Devadatta's body) claims on Padmini. A sage decides that the body with Devadatta's head is Padmini's husband.

Vijayakumar added another dimension to Ganapathi by including the two doll characters used by Karnad. The dolls play the part of society, debating moral issues involved in Padmini's yearning for her husband's friend.

Impressive use of stage properties and simple yet intelligent use of stage, supported by good performance by actors, marked the play. Among the trained actors, Sneha Sreekumar stole the show as Kali and an old woman, with her impeccable timing for comedy.

While protagonists were played by trained actors, chorus and other side characters were given a fresh, enthusiastic on-stage presence by new actors, mostly students from schools in the city.

Magic Theatre, according to founder Preetha Gibu, has been actively involving children in its plays for the last three years. “The aim is to bring children closer to theatre,” she says. The company staged ‘Oliver Twist' – a musical featuring 140 students last year. No wonder, ‘Hayavadana' had four shows, out of which two were reserved for students alone.

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Printable version | Mar 5, 2021 6:59:43 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/theatre/Bound-by-desire/article15448185.ece

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