Onstage role reversal

PLAY IN PROGRESS: Shamshan Kurukshetra   | Photo Credit: de30 periscope pheroze

A play that was ordered off the stage in Bhopal in 2010 is all set to tour major metropolitan cities later this month. The Hindi play Shamshan Kurukshetra (Necropolis Kurukshetra) will be staged in Kolkata and Mumbai this year as part of the Theatre-in-Motion festival. It is a reinterpretation of the Mahabharata adapted from Smashana Kurukshetram by Kannada literary legend K.V. Puttappa, better known as Kuvempu, and Bharat Bhushan Agarwal’s Mahabharat ki ek Saanjh (An Evening of the Mahabharata).

The play directed by Tariq Daad and performed by Bhopal’s Nyasa Theatre Company, was stopped in Bhopal in 2010 after the Congress accused the Bharatiya Janata Party-led State government of promoting a play that distorts a holy scripture.

In the play, a dying Duryodhana asks Lord Krishna and the Pandavas to say where he went wrong. “You, as the victor, will write history,” he tells Bhima. “But peace, based on fear, never lasts,” he says after being mortally wounded beside the Lake of Dwaita Vana.

“Objections were raised that Duryodhana, the eternal villain, was made a hero in the play. But if those who objected had watched the play, they would have seen that Krishna plays the role of writer and director. He even tells Duryodhana, ‘Don’t you know you are a mere character on this stage?” Mr. Daad told The Hindu.

The intensely political play sparked off hectic politicking in Madhya Pradesh. A week after the play was staged in the State-aided Bharat Bhawan cultural complex in November 2010, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s (RSS) supremo Mohan Bhagwat attended a meeting of his organisation in Bhopal.

It is learnt that the staging of the play, funded by the BJP government, was raised in the meeting. Mr. Bhagwat is understood to have conveyed that matters like these were best left to the wisdom of the State government. A section of the RSS then approached the then Deputy Congress Legislature Party leader Chaudhri Rakesh Singh Chaturvedi.

“How can anyone change what has been narrated by Lord Krishna himself? Why do people only choose to make jokes on Hindu scriptures? Is it because we are considered trivial?” Mr. Chaturvedi asked this correspondent. During a no-confidence motion in the winter session of the Vidhan Sabha in 2010, Mr. Chaturvedi had targeted the BJP, which he accused of paying lip service to Hinduism while simultaneously funding a play that “insulted” Hindus.

The play was finally not granted further bookings in Bharat Bhawan, Madhya Pradesh’s modern art and cultural hub. It has not been staged in Bhopal since.

In 2013, during another no-confidence motion, Mr. Chaturvedi scuttled the motion and defected to the BJP. He admitted to this reporter that he was informed about the play by an RSS pracharak. “I have no intention of watching it. I would rather read the scriptures of hear discourses on it. I would prefer to watch plays on decency, science or progress. It is adharma (unjust or iniquity) for the director to intrude into someone else’s personal religious space,” he said.

Interestingly, Nyasa has been able to stage the play in other parts of the State. The news coverage of the no-confidence motion focused on the corruption charges, and not Mr. Chaturvedi’s eloquent dissent. Mr. Daad chuckles saying that in most other parts of the State, the local BJP and Congress units do not know that their party lines went against the play.

The play was staged at the prestigious Rangayana theatre festival in Mysore in 2012. Rangayana is a State-government body and the government of the day was that of the BJP.

The 1931 play by Kuvempu, translated in Hindi by B.R. Narayan, is a terrific script that allows for a lot of experimentation in expression and stage design. The Hindi script is rich and has several layers of meaning. Yet, it is simple and lucid.

At the end of the play, Lord Shiva asks Lord Krishna what were his further literary plans after scripting the Mahabharata. “I’ve already written the Kalyug,” says Krishna. “It starts tomorrow.”

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Printable version | Dec 1, 2021 2:19:01 AM |

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