Of snakes and women


One story and so many tellings. A.K. Ramanujan told this folktale and it became three plays – Nagamandala, Siri Sampige and Haavu Hokka Manegalu by Girish Karnad, Chandrashekar Kambar, and Hooli Shekar respectively. Girish Karnad’s Nagamandala, when compared to Kambar’s Siri Sampige is less complex, but makes for good theatre. His plays are a reflection of contemporary Indian cultural and social life. For this, Karnad makes use of folk tales, myths and historical legends.

Nagamandala was first produced in Kannada in 1989 by the late actor Shankar Nag. A grand and ambitious production, the play had B. Jayashri, Padmavathi Rao, Arundhati Nag and Shankar Nag himself in the play. Music was composed by C. Ashwath and the stunning song, “Maayada Manada Bhara” written by Gopal Vajpeyi. Recalling those days, Padmavathi Rao says: “Those were not days of theatre workshops. Much of our association with theatre was fuelled by our own personal passion and the willingness to work with ourselves. Aru, Shankar and me would discuss every little detail. For me, the most intense part of the play was Rani’s loneliness. It’s the story of most women in India. They come from loving families and don’t know the world is going to change dramatically for them. I would think that this is the world’s best kept secret. There is a duality between ‘said’ and ‘unsaid’ and throughout history and mythology one sees this happening to women.”

Much later the play was taken up by Neelam Mansingh Chowdhry. The play which drew from several theatre traditions dazzled for its aesthetics. Nagamandala was Neelam’s first major work. For the first time, writes Chaman Ahuja, speech, narration, recitation, songs, dances, costumes, props, movements, stood unified. In a sense, she did not just direct the play, she recreated it- a recreation that earned full approval from the playwright Girish Karnad: ‘You are the only person who has really understood my play.’

Neelam’s Nagamandala is based on a fine translation in Punjabi by poet Surjit Patar. In fact, Neelam took up this same play some time in the late eighties and it proved to be a turning point in her journey as a director. Speaking of her later Nagamandala, which Neelam calls a recreation, she says: “I wasn’t very excited to begin with. I didn’t know if I wanted to do a tale about snakes and women all over again. The Manto festival at Lahore got cancelled and I just started reading Nagamandala again. The story had the power to grip her again and so I picked up the same script and most of the same actors and started work on it all over again.”

The Company presents Nagamandala (Punjabi) directed by Neelam Mansingh Chowdhry, will be staged at Ranga Shankara on November 2, 7.30 p.m. For tickets, and Ranga Shankara box office.

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Printable version | May 6, 2021 9:33:59 AM |

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