The eternal charm of Shakuntalam

Gireeshan V. as Dushyantha and Manju Warrier as Shakuntala in 'Abhijnana Shakuntalam' Photo: Hareesh N. Nampoothiri   | Photo Credit: Hareesh N. Nampoothiri

‘Prakruthi hithaya parthiva, (pravarthatham) praja hithaya parthiva...’ the verse echoed in the auditorium as ‘Abhijnana Shakuntalam’, Kavalam Narayana Panicker’s take on Kalidasa’s epic Sanskrit play, concluded. The two lines by itself resonate with the essence of the play that could be translated as ‘Oh! King! Do what it will take for the goodness of nature and in the interest of the people’.

The original play by Kalidasa itself revolves around this theme and the character of Shakuntala is often considered as a synonym of Nature in all its purity. Thus, Dushyantha, the one who hunts and rule, becomes a representative of mankind, exploiting Nature and forgetting to acknowledge his deeds! It requires a reminder now and then to emphasise that duty and it is there that the play becomes relevant even today.

Certainly, it was the presence of Manju Warrier that got the play into the headlines prior to its performance and her presence was also the reason for the huge audience, irrespective of the play being in Sanskrit. But as the stage got lit and the rhythm picked up, the drama grabbed the attention of the viewers in its wholeness.

Kavalam’s ‘rangapadam’ (stage proceedings) made it all the more engaging and language was never a barrier in following the happenings on the stage.

The play opened with a doe running for her life from a tiger, only to confront Dushyantha, who is there on a hunting trip. The doe makes her way into the hermitage of Sage Kanva. Listening to the advice of young sages there, the king withdraws his arrow. It is there that he hears about Shakuntala, agrees to be their guest and surreptitiously watches Shakuntala watering the garden along with her friends and falls for her.

Gireeshan V. of Sopanam, a seasoned actor and directorial assistant, played the role of King Dushyantha to perfection while Manju Warrier breathed life into the character of Shakuntala. Rendering in tune ‘Itha ithaha sakhyaou...’ (meaning; this way my friends) and then making her entry in on stage in a sitting posture, drawing parallels with a flower in full bloom, Manju, though a first-timer, started off well in tune with her experienced co-actors who shared the stage with her.

Eventually Shakuntala meets Dushyantha in his palace, only to find that he has completely forgotten her, and the sages also leave her there to her fate. That is when Manju was seen at her best, portraying the overwhelming emotions of the character.

Another character worth noting was that of Vidooshaka, effectively essayed by Sajikumar S.L. Krishna M.S. and Keerthana Ravi played the roles of Anusuya and Priyamvada respectively. Komalan G. Nair appeared as sage Durvasa and Sivakumar R. enacted sage Kanva. Mohini Vinayan, who acted as Shakuntala when it was presented for the first time in the early eighties, played the role of Gautami here. She also assisted in directing the play. The cast included Sharan B.S., Sreekanth Sankar S.U., Manikandan P., Raghunathan C. and Praveen C.P. in different supporting roles.

Kavalam’s version, as presented here, concluded with portions from act VI of Kalidasa’s original play. The final act, where Dushyantha meets Shakuntala along with his son Bharata and their reunion, was not included in this version.

Dushyantha gets his ring back from a fisherman who finds it in the belly of a fish. The ring, which was originally presented to Shakuntala, revives his memory. Dushyantha, troubled by feelings of guilt, tries to find solace in painting a picture of Shakuntala. As he completes the painting, memories rush back, including scenes of their marriage in which the king presents his royal signet ring to his wedded wife. The play ends with Dushyantha hoping to reunite with Shakuntala or it could be seen as the playwright hinting at their reunion in the future.

While the actors excelled on stage, it was the musicians who made it even more enthralling by playing the well-thought out background score. Vocalist Anil Kumar Pazhaveedu was accompanied by V. Soundararajan (veena), Sabu K.N. (harmonium) and Ramdas P. and Maneeksha K.S. on a set of different percussion instruments.

Be it the dialogues delivered on stage or the live music, Tennyson’s sound arrangements hardly missed even a whisper and made it audible all across the packed hall. Sreekanth on lights too did a commendable job, enhancing the mood of the scenes and the characters.

Costumes and minimal stage settings arranged by Murali Chandran worked well for the most part. However, makeup and costumes for Durvasa and Kanva couldn’t claim the finesse of that of the other characters. Also, the jib arrangement used for video coverage ended up being a distraction for the audience.

The play was presented by Sopanam Institute of Performing Arts & Research, founded by the late Kavalam Narayana Panicker, and was hosted by Swaralaya. Manju debuted as a producer as well and the play was produced under her banner, Manju Warrier Productions.

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Printable version | Mar 6, 2021 9:50:51 AM |

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