Tale of love and longing

A scene from "Charudatta".  

One of the earliest Indian classical playwrights, Bhasa’s plays were discovered by T. Ganapati Sastri, Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala in 1909. This was a most significant event which “shed new light on the dramatic literature and theatre of ancient India.” Thanks to K.N. Panikkar, eminent theatre director known for his exploration of Bhasa’s dramas as a living dramatic entity, Delhi theatre-goers have been able to witness Bhasa’s play like “Madhyama-Viyoga”, “Karna-Bhara” and “Urubhanga” which were inspired by the Mahabharata. Suffused with tragic note, these plays have a remarkable appeal. This past week we were able to watch his “Charudatta” in Hindi translation by the Lucknow-based theatre and writer Lalit Singh Phokirya at Poorva Sanskritik Kendra. Despite flagging patches at places, the production engaged the attention.

Presented by Gatha, the play is directed by Bhupesh Joshi, a graduate from the Bhartendu Natya Akademy, Lucknow. Also an actor and theatre researcher, Joshi is the artistic director of Gatha, under whose direction the group has been performing in Delhi as well as in Uttarakhand, evoking encouraging response from audiences.

“Charudatta” is a lovely play which celebrates the glory of true love between Vasantasena, a rich and cultured courtesan, and Charudatta a noble but poor Brahmin. In the character of Shakaar there is a villain who uses force to seek the company of the courtesan. Flaunting his status as the brother-in-law of the ruler of the land becomes his trademark. After overcoming various hurdles the lovers are united, highlighting the triumph of love.

Apart from depicting the life of the rich and powerful, there are slices of the lives of marginalised people like slaves who can buy their liberty by paying their masters. Here poverty produces deviance: a Brahmin turns into a thief.

The play begins with the stylised movements of the entire cast to the accompaniment of musical instruments playing classical ragas, which serves as a poorvarang as well as a romantic setting of Kamotsava. In this scene we watch Charudatta and Vasantsena falling in love at first sight, but Charudatta’s poverty makes him reluctant to express his love.

The play ends with the poem “Is Dharti Ke Durdin Ab Door Hon” rendered by the entire cast. This appears to be an innovative device which tends to be preachy. The director, however, has been able to capture the spirit of simplicity of the presentational technique which is the hallmark of Sanskrit theatre. The stage is almost bare. Upstage in the centre is a slightly raised platform to suggest Vasantsena’s palace and much of the action takes place downstage, enabling performers to establish immediacy with the audience.

(There is another play in Sanskrit written by Sudraka known as “Mrichchhkatika” (The Clay Cart) which is an extension of the narrative of Charudutta to emphasise the justification of overthrow of an unjust regime by force. Habib Tanvir’s production of this play as “Mitti Ki Gadi” is considered one of the landmark works in the history of contemporary Indian theatre.)

Madhulika Jatoliya as Vasantasena gives an impressive performance. Her Vasantsena is elegant, articulate, intelligent and compassionate. Pankaj Dwivedi as Charudutta displays the nobility of his character and maintains his dignity even in the midst of adversity. Deepak Kumar’s Shakaar is wicked as well as foolish. We laugh at his ridiculous manners.

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Printable version | Jan 21, 2021 9:40:22 AM |

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