Theatre

Framing a new thought

There is the epic. Then, there is the adaptation of that epic. And then a reworking of that adaptation. Manjunath Badiger’s play, Chitrapata belongs to the last category. This play, which was recently staged in Bangalore, is based on poet H.S.Venkatesh Murthy’s work, a creative spin on an episode in the Ramayana.



Sita, after enduring the agniparikshe, is now safely lodged in Rama’s palace in Ayodhya. Rama, in both HSV’s text and in Manjunath’s play is a man of steady suspicion, making Sita’s life an endless test. Into this precarious atmosphere enters Chandranakhi, the beautiful alter-ego of Surpanakhi who deems that her revenge is not yet over. Ravana may be dead but Rama can still be won over. She hatches a plot such that Sita is tricked into remembering Ravana and is urged to draw a picture of him. The plan is to break the marriage of Rama and Sita. The picture, much to Sita’s dismay, comes alive and her imagined Ravana now stands in front of her. She urges this Ravana to go away but he insists that he is her creation after all and that he must stay with her. In a radical solution to this baffling problem, she beckons Ravana to treat her as his mother and therefore stay in the palace with her as her son. The story, in its climax shows an angry Rama fighting Ravana. It is Sita who finally steps in to rescue her son, spurning Rama.



“In HSV’s text, Sita, on seeing Ravana hurt, pleads with Rama and ends up feeling helpless. I wanted to change that in my production. So, I decided that Sita would step in and support Ravana. She would enter the frame from which her Ravana emerged,” explained Manjunath, whose production won three awards at the ‘Mahindra Excellence in Theatre Awards’, held recently at New Delhi. The play won an award for Best Actor (Female), Best Supporting Actor (Female) and Best Costume Design.



Not only did Manjunath’s play offer a new perspective on HSV's text but the manner in which it presented it on stage was refreshing and creative. For instance, Manjunath's actors blended classical and folk dance forms into the characters they were playing. So, as Sita delivered her lines, her body used the language of Odissi. The narrators used the folk form of Jogerata as they introduced the story to their audience. Jogerata gave Manjunath the opportunity to use ‘chitrapata’ or pictorial narration such that characters could leap out of their pictures and tell their story. Manjunath calls this form of acting, 'poetic acting.' "It all began when I applied for a fellowship by CCRT. I called my project, 'The exploration of poetic acting through Indian classical art forms.' The idea is to blend bhava and bhangi to create a new experience. Natya has a style of its own, a language and an essence. The text, which I call Kavya, also has a certain rhythm and design. When you utter this Kavya, there is a certain poetic essence that can be grasped. I wanted to express that essence through the body,” he says, explaining the evolution of this form of acting.



So, he sat with his team, read the play and instilled the sense of Natya in all his characters. Each role was given its own dance form. Interestingly, Ravana used Yakshagana. “I was inspired by the line- ‘the Ravana that Sita saw is different from the one Rama saw.’ I sketched Sita’s background from a portion of Helavana Katte Giriyamma's Janapada version of the epic in which she is not a princess, but a regular village girl. She would have grown up seeing the routine Yakshagana performances in her village. So, I realised that if she were to sketch Ravana from her perspective, he would have to be a folk hero,” explained Manjunath. This imagination worked well for the play, for the actor who played Ravana was a trained Yakshagana artist who performed his role as Sita’s creation with innocence and skill.



After he graduated from Ninasam, Manjunath realised that his plays, unintentionally, were developing this poetic style. “Even if you give me a realistic, social play, I would execute it in this style. If we were to act just as we do in television serials and in cinema, then how different will a play be? Why do a play at all? We need a form that is specially crafted for the stage,” he says. Two teachers, Manjunath says, shaped his theatre experience: S. Raghunandan from the National School of Drama and Venkatramana Aithal, his teacher at Ninasam. He strongly believes that such experiments are necessary for theatre to grow and to keep practitioners interested in the form.



Manjunath’s association with the theatre group Samashti goes all the way back to 1999. Between 2002 and 2003, he studied at Ninasam and thereafter at the Yakshagana repertory. He came back to Samashti in 2005 and has since, dedicated his time for theatre. “It is difficult today to survive purely on the income one gets from theatre. Even if I do four plays in a year with each earning Rs.25000, I would squarely get around Rs.5000 a month. But, it is a choice I have made. I’m not doing this for money. For me, this is something else -- a sense of thrill, a wild pursuit and an almost spiritual experience. I have very basic demands. As long as there is food to eat, I have no qualms about the lack of money,” he reveals.



In his own experience, he says that theatre has changed a lot. “It has progressed technically. A number of youngsters are interested. But they constitute a floating population that leaves as quickly as they come into a troupe,” he says.



After Ninasam, Manjunath says he barely watches plays. He has never stepped into a movie theatre and does not have a television at home. But isn’t watching theatre a part of the learning process? “It’s not that I haven’t watched plays at all. But I do not have the money to spend Rs.200 on a play for instance. With that money, I could buy milk for the house, perhaps. When I have chosen this lifestyle and have these ideals, I also need to be practical about my choices,” he explains.



So, is the award something he would cherish? “Well, I didn’t do this play thinking it will be nominated for any award. Now that it has won, I’m happy but it doesn’t change me or my passion for theatre. I believe in doing my duty. I do not bother with the rest,” he says with an inner composure.

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Printable version | Nov 29, 2020 11:30:29 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/theatre/framing-a-new-thought-manjunath-badiger/article7061469.ece

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