Theatre

To just tell the story

In all earnestness Full of dramatic possibilities.  

The act of reading could be of three kinds: reading, misreading, over-reading. While these three distinct categories may well collapse into one category, one often finds ‘misreading' and ‘over-reading' treading the same line. If one concedes translation is a form of reading, it perhaps faces the same perils. When translation takes place across mediums, the complexity gets heightened; now represented in another sign system. “Kantu”, Vivek Shanbhag's short story, was translated into a piece of theatre by theatre director and designer Channakeshava as part of this year's Ninasam Tirugata productions. Its language and impetus stood altered.

“Kantu” has three strands, but multiple pre-occupations. It has many moments of drama, but understated in its enactment. The stories of Sadananda Mastaru, Gangadhara and Vittalarayaru's family unravel and progress in the context of an eclipse and dam that has thrown the village of Mavinooru on the international map. Beset with unprecedented changes, the village goes through a churning. Science encounters religion, modernity enters traditional thresholds. These binary positions don't stand isolated in their own clinical spaces, but constantly criss-cross each other's paths. Eventually, Sadanand Mastaru, a firm upholder of science buckles under the pressure of religion. Panduranga's temptations blur the lines between survival and greed. And more. These historical junctures are important for the writer, but he raises bigger questions. How does the human spirit unravel itself in these moments of crisis, what choices do individuals make, and are forces of rupture extraneous or do they take birth within the human mind? As ideological superstructures collapse, what happens to human relationships? The text has many texts – some fore-grounded, while the others play out in the background. Going back to the translation — Channakeshava's “Kantu” has interesting details. It gives birth to new metaphors and an interesting visual language. For instance, the stunning and disturbing image of Kaveri suspended upside down on the globe with her domestic world tumbling down on her. Buguri, who works as our conscience keeper, is a powerful second register in the play. In fact, at times, he is reminiscent of the Bard's clowns who say much in their acts of buffoonery. However, the narrative of the play is blaring far from the low mimetic mode of the story, and steals away all the subtleties and the insidious nature of the tragedy. The images are stretched and overused and the spark wears out before the play ends. It is obvious that Channakeshava is excited by the dramatic possibilities of the story, and rightly so, but fails to decide what his central pre-occupation is. All the background elements in the story are dragged to the foreground, making the play a clutter of ideas and images. As a result, the contradictions embedded in the story are reduced to a development and anti-development discourse in the play. Buguri's death in the play is a powerful intuitive moment in the creative process of the director, but he fails to tap its power. What could have been a poignant comment ends in confusion. The translation neither conserves the text nor does it enrich it. It is important to remember that Channakeshava's earlier version of “Kantu”, years ago, was a more competent work.

Music has to be pulled up by notches. Duration of the play can be generously trimmed. Props were good. Actors did an excellent job, the director's earnestness and the rigour that has gone into the making of the play cannot be missed. Nevertheless, we need to read our texts appropriately. Be assured, the audience will find the meanings.

Ninasam Tirugata will stage “Kantu” on October 16 and 17 at H.N. Kalakshetra, National College, Jayanagar, Bangalore, 6.30 p.m.

It also opens the Rangashankara Theatre Festival on October 15, 7.30 p.m.

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Printable version | May 9, 2021 2:54:00 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/theatre/to-just-tell-the-story/article2534309.ece

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