Theatre

Kalidas all over again

A scene from the play.   | Photo Credit: 11dfrBajeli

Much about the early life of greatest Sanskrit poet and dramatist Kalidas is shrouded in figment of imagination. He is generally portrayed as a dull-witted woodcutter who is used by scholars to avenge their humiliation at the hands of Princess Vidyottma, a highly erudite young woman, who established her scholarly supremacy over the male scholars as they failed to win her hand in marriage in a contest.

“Kalidas Charita” in Bengali presented by Sutradhar Theatre Group (Trust) at Gyan Manch, Pretoria Street, Kolkata this past week projects the character of Kalidas in the rational light. The production is neat, uncluttered and unpretentious.

Written and directed by Indra Narayan Mukherjee, the play is treated in a restrained manner. The music, choreography and drama are all blended, ensuring rhythmic flow of action. The play opens with evocation to Lord Shiva to bestow peace, prosperity and noble human sentiments to enable the humanity to live in harmony.

Tagore’s lyric in praise of Kalidas is rendered in soulful voices. Sutradhar sets the tone of curiosity, suggesting the period atmosphere. The narrative is straightforward which sparkles with comic wit, tender sentiments and poetic sensibility. With the help of wooden blocks various situations are created. A huge umbrella close to the upstage with leaves serves as the canopy for king’s throne and with the help of skilled lighting effects it offers the perspective of a forest in the distance.

The play captures the hectic atmosphere of the royal court of Kuntal King whose learned daughter Vidyottma has declared that she will marry to one who is learned enough to answer her questions.

The king and courtiers are all worried as no one has been able to answer the question put to them by the Princess. Since the Princess has opened the contest for marriage to all young men irrespective their class and caste, the royalty is trying to keep away all those who are not a blue-blooded.

A comic scene is enacted where an old man belonging to the ruling class is being carried away on a cot by four strong men. He is obsessed with bananas with the misconception that it will keep him young. He has already a large number of wives. Now he wants a young one. However, good sense prevails, he and his strong men, who carry him on the cot, return. The scene serves a satirical comment on members of royalty who are never tired of marrying with young girls.

Now we meet Kalidas, a simple village boy who makes his living by cutting wood. The Prince of Utkal is seen galloping on the horse towards the venue of competition in the royal court. The Prince stops. He asks Kalidas to take hold of his horse and his royal robes as he wants to fresh himself in the nearby river. He also tells Kalidas he can wear his robes to protect them from dust on the ground. In the course of their conversation, the Prince tells Kalidas that he has already three young wives and he wants a third one. He confesses that the conjugal life of a man with several wives is dull and loveless.

Out of curiosity, Kalidas in royal robes mounts the horse’s back and it starts racing towards the court of King Kuntal. Taken for a Prince, he is allowed to enter the competition of questions and answers.

Endowed with folk wisdom, he manages to answer the questions of the Princess. As good luck has it, the questions put to him are not bookish but required common sense to answer which are not difficult for a working class young man. He is declared the winner.

As is expected, he is exposed on the first wedding night itself. A humiliated and insulted Kalidas disappears. Contradicting the myth about the way a wood-cutter transformed into a great poet and dramatist of his time by worshiping Goddess Kali or Saraswati, the play illustrates that by sheer hard work, dedication and inculcating love for learning, Kalidas acquired great knowledge and creative power.

The scene between Kalidas and Malini set against the backdrop of a river where Malini and Kalidas discuss Kumarsambhav exudes an aura of elegance and poetic beauty. Kalidas accepts Malini as his disciple. The scene is rich in restraint sentimentality in which a disciple reflects her inner gratitude for the greatest poet. Through Malini, the Queen of Vikramaditya of Ujjain comes to know the wealth of great poetic works of Kalidas, especially about his Kumarsambhav. This leads to Kalidas’ nomination as one of the nine gems at the court of Vikramaditya. The scene radiates with sublime beauty reflecting director's deft and subtle treatment.

Writer-director Indra Narayan Mukherjee and his group are based in Noida. He went all the way to Kolkata for casting and rehearing his play. Most of the performers in the main roles are from Kolkata. Mukherjee is pleased with himself that it is easier to produce and stage a play in Kolkata than staging it in Delhi.

In the lead role of Kalidas Dibyendu Das and Sanghita Mukherjee as Malini give riveting performances, deeply touching the emotional chord of the audience.

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Printable version | Mar 1, 2021 11:08:10 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/theatre/kalidas-all-over-again/article7637370.ece

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