Theatre

The fall of Abhimanyu

NEW ACT: A scene from 'Abhimanyu.'   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

Sadanam Harikumar is a singer, painter, sculptor, composer and choreographer. He already has nine Kathakali plays to his credit and his latest work is ‘Abhimanyu.' The play was recently staged at Kerala Kalamandalam under the aegis of the Indian Council for Cultural Relations.

Several playwrights of the last century have penned plays based on the Mahabharata, against the backdrop of the Kurukshetra war. Harikumar too has been attracted by the drama in the tale while composing ‘Abhimanyu.'

With Arjuna's son Abhimanyu as the protagonist, the play unfolds with King Duryodhana talking to Dronacharya about the Pandavas, whose advances in the war have traumatised the Kauravas. He takes a dig at Drona who is all praise for his favourite disciple Partha's feats in the battle. Drona feels that Arjuna will be invincible in the battle with Krishna as his charioteer. This irks Duryodhana and he suggests that Drona be replaced with Karna as the commander-in-chief of the army.

An enraged Drona decides to quit the battlefield but Karna intervenes and advises Duryodhana not to lose his composure and to remember the code of conduct. Enter Dussasana, who displays his impatience to take on Bhima, his arch enemy. Drona duly cools down and sets about formulating the ‘Padmavyuha' strategy of attack, and asks Duryodhana to challenge Yudhishtira, the eldest of the Pandavas, for it.

In the second scene a petrified Yudhishtira asks Abhimanyu about the method to confront the Padmavyuha, the ins and outs of which are known only to Krishna and Arjuna. Abhimanyu consoles his uncle and readily takes up the challenge.

Unethical conduct

In the last scene, Drona, Karna, Duryodhana, and Dussasana form the Padmavyuha. Abhimanyu enters the Padmavyuha all alone and trounces each of them, one after the other. However, they collectively rise up and confront Abhimanyu. The ‘adventurous warrior' is shocked to see this unethical advancement of the Kauravas and requests Drona to dissuade others from this joint attack as it is against the moral code of conduct. But they don't relent and Abhimanyu is brutally killed.

As Duryodhana, Sadanam Balakrishnan was perfectly at ease. Sadanam Manikandan's Karna and Vishnuprasad's Dussasana sustained the tone and tempo of the play all throughout. Sadanam Krishnadas communicated well as Drona.

While Sadanam Suresh performed the role of Yudhishtira, Sadanam Bhasi as Abhimanyu displayed his technical virtuosity and felicity for emotive encounters with the rest of the characters. Harikumar wielded the gongs and rendered the play, with the support of Sivadasan. The ragas he chose for each padam and bhava were appropriate to the context and to the characterisation, though certain notes were a little too sophisticated.

The most praiseworthy of the background music was the chenda and the maddalam. Sadanam Gopalakrishnan, Ramakrishnan, Sadanam Rajagopalan and Devadasan did a good job. Theirs was an aural exuberance. Kalamandalam Sateesan and Kayyandam Neelakandan did a neat chutti.

The lyrics of the play appear to have a difficult relation with poetry, which is evident from some of the lines penned by Harikumar. For instance, Duryodhana's lament: ‘Kauravappada potinjutayunnu karayunnu/ pandavappada jayasringam karerunnu…' (The Kaurava army is being crushed to dust and is weeping/the Pandava army rises to the peak of victory). The role of the literary text and the visual idiom in Kathakali calls for an extensive debate. The topic resurfaces with the staging of ‘Abhimanyu.'

Choreographic diversity

As a disciple of the avant-garde actor Keezhpadam Kumaran Nair, Harikumar has always had a zest to bring in new kalasams and musical expressions in his plays. “The set pattern of scenes, predictable foot-steps and the conventional theatrical articulations amount to an aesthetic stagnation in Kathakali,” says Harikumar.

He has thus made a bold attempt to choreograph each duel in different rhythms – chemba, adantha, panchari and chembada. Since the play stems from a battleground, Harikumar has eschewed the scene of pathos centring round a hero and the heroine. He has deliberately dispensed with mild sentiments. The play builds up from mid tempo and the crescendo brims with heroism and vengeance. Both the ‘vattamvechu' kalasam and the ‘eduthu' kalasam are distinctive.

The aharya of Dronacharya is strikingly different, yet within the parameters of the Kathakali make-up and costuming.

Harikumar's dream has been to reshuffle the available materials in Kathakali to create a few new ripples within its given framework. ‘Abhimanyu' has made this dream a reality.

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Printable version | Apr 18, 2021 3:35:16 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/theatre/the-fall-of-abhimanyu/article2147251.ece

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