Theatre

Gandhari’s gaze

A scene from the play.   | Photo Credit: 27dfr Rage & Beyond1

The 10th Mahindra Excellence in Theatre Awards (META) festival opened with the presentation of “Rage and Beyond: Irawati’s Gandhari” at New Delhi’s LTG Auditorium on March 21 to a capacity hall. A dance theatre performance by a solo actress-dancer, Sanjukta Wagh, it is an experimental piece that projects Gandhari’s anguish and her reflections on her life and the Mahabharata war that ended in the total defeat of the Kauravas.

Within the format of Kathak dance, the dancer gives the visual poetic dimension to a mythological character. Interestingly, the recent Bharat Rang Mahotsav-2015 also featured some dance theatre productions like “Khata” and “Chitrangada”. Both of these dramatized works by Rabindranath Tagore. Both were visually and aurally thrilling with powerful thematic content. Sanjukta’s “Rage and Beyond” is sketchy in content and at the most dramatically vital point when the production is moving towards the climax, she shifts her highly stylised form into a realistic one as the denouement.

Inspired by Irawati Karve’s “Yugant” which is considered “one of the first contemporary reinterpretations of the Mahabharata by a woman writer,” the director-script writer and performer adds, “I try to keep this complexity alive without the need to essentialise or glorify either the author or her character…”

This writer has not had the opportunity to read Irawati’s version of Gandhari and is therefore not able to comment on what precisely is her Gandhari. My observation is based on the portrait of Gandhari projected on stage by Sanjukta who is essentially a Kathak dancer.

We see a number of images of Gandhari who narrates her own story, her response to the Mahabharata war, her affection for her sons, especially her eldest, Duryodhana. She reflects on her marriage with a prince, Dhritarashtra, who is blind from birth. To be in tune with the dark world of her blind husband, Gandhari wrapped a cloth blindfold round her eyes for the rest of her life. She is anguished at the way her sons were mercilessly treated as villains in the war, resulting in their total annihilation.

The images created are visually gripping. But in terms of reinterpretation of the tumultuous and tragic life of Gandhari to reflect the contemporary dilemma of humanity, there is little attempt. In fact, the Mahabharata has been a source of inspiration to classic playwrights including Bhasa, six of whose 13 plays recreate some episodes from the epic. In our own time, the women of the Mahabharata have attracted the attention of theatre personalities. About three decades ago, K. Madavane presented some famous women characters from the Mahabharata to bring out the enduring relevance of the epic.

Draupadi is frequently dealt with by modern theatre practitioners. Atul Koushik’s production “Draupadi” seen on the Delhi stage last year was critically hailed. Saoli Mitra’s “Nathabati Anathabat” has become a modern classic in Indian theatre, projecting the agonised world of Draupadi in a man-dominated society.

We have also seen on the Delhi stage a play on Ghatotkacha and his mother Hidimba who become the victim of a ruling class conspiracy. Similarly, Ratan Thiyam’s play “Chakravyuh” has been critically acclaimed as an outstanding re-creation of one of the episodes from the Mahabharata. Peter Brook, one of the most revered theatre directors of the world, gave the Mahabharata a universal dimension, celebrating its all-time relevance. As for Gandhari, we have watched the intensity of her rage and the heart-rending grief of a mother who has lost all her 100 sons, who finally comes to terms after cursing Lord Krishna.

Arguably, Sanjukta’s attempt is the first at staging Gandhari in Delhi in a solo dance theatre format. Her Gandhari admits that her life has come full circle. She was the daughter of the Himalayas and now after losing everything she is returning to the Himalayas. Attired in aesthetically designed costumes, she exudes a variety of moods. The kind of form Sanjukta has conceived for her production gives little opportunity for the performer to reflect the psychological subtleties of her character and the inner ebb and flow of her ravaged heart.

Sanjukta has also experimented with the music that accompanies her stylised movements. Generally, Kathak is accompanied by a variety of musical instruments, especially the tabla and pakhawaj. Here, she is accompanied by Hitesh Dhutia on the guitar playing his own compositions. On the one side of the central stage Hitesh sits on a stool, and on the other, a chair and a desk are placed, which are only used towards the end for a few minutes. The stylised lighting creates a number of shades, often dazzling the audience. But in a modern theatre production, the audience should be provoked, disturbed and made critically aware about the human condition and not dazzled.


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Printable version | Jun 20, 2021 12:21:47 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/theatre/gandharis-gaze/article7035594.ece

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