Atul Satya Koushik is one of the few young theatre practitioners on the Delhi stage who are persistent in their search for new forms and themes. Among his previous works, two productions — “Arjun Ka Beta” and “Draupadi” — have stood out for their novelty and appeal to a wider audience. Both were based on episodes from the Mahabharat. His latest venture “Chakravyuh”, presented by the Films and Theatre Society at Kamani auditorium this past week, is an attempt to expand his earlier theme based on the Mahabharat and reinterpret it in terms of a universal message.
In Koushik’s earlier two productions the character of Krishna does not appear on the stage. In his latest recreation, the play opens with the entry of Krishna who through his soliloquy expresses his grave concern over the war-ravaged earth. He appears again towards the denouement to comment on the human dilemma, a dilemma caused by the entanglement of humanity in the chakravyuh from which an exit is not possible. Playwright-director Koushik seeks to use the title of his play “Chakravyuh” as an allegory to express modern man’s existential anxieties. Krishna becomes the mouthpiece of the director-playwright to communicate his vision of the Mahabharata. Interestingly, the character of Krishna does little to set afoot dramatic action. He appears to be an observer of the acts of warriors engaged in a war being fought in the name of the protection of Dharma .
Koushik took up the challenge of writing the play in verse. In recent memory we have seen several landmark productions on this episode of the Mahabharat. Ratan Thiyam’s “Chakravyuh”, which was premiered in 1984, was remarkable for its stunning visuals, poetic intensity and synthesis of Manipuri theatrical forms and martial arts with modern theatrical technique. Thiyam’s “Chakravyuh” is now considered a modern classic and has completed more than 100 shows in India as well as abroad. We have watched a folk play on this episode from Uttarakhand. The form is popularly known as Pandav Jagar which mesmerised the audience with its evocative vocal music accompanied by an array of folk instruments, highly stylised moments and costumes. Delhi theatre lovers also witnessed Radheshyam Kathawachk’s “Veer Abhimanyu” under the direction of the late B.M. Shah in Parsi style. It is not fair to compare these productions of the Abhimanyu story with that of Koushik.
The play opens with a meeting of the demoralised Kaurav warriors, with an angry Duryodhan accusing Dronacharya of harbouring sympathy for the Pandavs. A hurt Dronacharya assures him that he will devise a strategy called the Chakravyuh — warriors drawn up in a circular formation — which will ensure them a decisive victory over the Pandavs. He tells them that only Arjun knows how to break up the multiple formations and come out of this maze. He further devises another strategy which will keep Arjun busy on another front far away from the chakravyuh.
Sure that Arjun is far away, the Kauravs challenge the Pandavs to combat their chakravyuh. All the great warriors in the Pandav camp express their inability to break into the complicated formations. Suddenly Abhimanyu, a mere 16-year-old youth, offers himself to challenge the Kauravs, claiming he partially learnt the war strategy of breaking the chakravyuh while he was in his mother’s womb. Yudhishthir permits him to challenge the Kauravs.
Koushik has revealed the outcome of the confrontation between Abhimanyu, pitted alone against a whole range of veteran warriors, in a flashback in the course of interaction between Yudhishthir and Bheeshma.
The use of apt offstage vocal and instrumental music reinforces the mood of given scenes. Smoke with lighting effects imparts a magical aura to the dramatically vital scenes. The most gripping scenes in the production are the ones included from “Arjun Ka Beta” which are noteworthy for the display of martial skills by the performers and the choreographic patterns exuding heroism.
Towards the close the mood abruptly changes into a reflective one, with slow pace and philosophic tone. As the pall of intense sorrow and cries of lamentations of the Pandav family suffuse the atmosphere, Krishna appears on the scene with his characteristic iconic smile. He tells Abhimanyu’s widow Uttara to have courage and discover the Purush — male elements present in every woman — and get ready to look after Abhimanyu’s offspring growing inside her womb. Analysing the destiny of man, Krishna tells the Pandavs that every human including god is entrapped in a kind of chakravyuh.
Nitish Bharadwaj of B.R Chopra’s “Mahabharata” fame appears as Krishna. In fact, he is the cynosure of all eyes and a crowd-puller. Lalit Bhardwaj as Abhimanyu gives a memorable performance. Gaurav Jakhu’s Yudhishthir feels the prick of conscience for permitting Abhimanyu to accept the challenge of the Kauravs; his Yudhishtir feels gnawing guilt for the boy’s death. Sachin Joshi as Bheeshma, Taran Dang as Arjun and Rahul Bhuchar as Duryodhan make their portrayals convincing.