Pregnant with meaning

A LAYERED NARRATIVE A scene from “Flesh”

A LAYERED NARRATIVE A scene from “Flesh”  

Kaushik Bose's "Flesh", an adaptation of Devdutt Pattanaik's novel, echoes contemporary concerns about gender and sexual identity

Be it the story of Karna born out of wedlock and paying a heavy price for his illegitimate status or that of Eklavya who is denied archery training because of his caste, the social concerns raised by Mahabharat continue to be relevant today. Likewise, the treatment meted out to Draupadi depicts the status of women and the actions of Dhritarashtra show how the inability to strike a balance between responsibilities and affection creates havoc. Taking up some strands from this epic, Devdutt Pattanaik penned “The Pregnant King” in 2008 which is now being adapted by Theatreworms Productions in the form of an English play “Flesh” to be staged this week in New Delhi.

Continuing with bold themes and issue, the play, scripted and directed by Kaushik Bose revolves around the tale of Yuvanashva, a childless king, who accidentally drinks the magic potion meant to make his queens pregnant and gives birth to a son. This accident triggers a deluge of questions about gender, sexual identity, motherhood, roles and duties of individuals and dharma among others.

For Bose reading Pattanaik’s book was a moving experience and the story of Yuvanashva so relevant to the times we live in. “It was an inspiring piece of work which I wanted to tell in the format of a play.”

Kaushik Bose

Kaushik Bose  

Giving birth to a son, Yuvanashva’s life undergoes changes leading to disturbances. He is faced with questions like is he the child’s father or mother and if biology is destiny, if gender is the cornerstone that defines roles and duties of individuals then how does he come to terms with disruptions. “When childless, Yuvanashva faced different challenges and his understanding of dharma was different. After the accident, his interpretations of those same principles, he once believed in, changes. The play follows Yuvanashva’s journey from one spectrum to the other and delves on whether he adjusts to the roles imposed by the society or he yearns for the acceptance of his ‘condition’,” says Bose.

Even though at the heart of the play is the little known story of the king, it has several sub-layers and subtexts. Elaborating about the gamut of enquiries “Flesh” raises, Bose explains, “It questions whether a man who delivers a son can be called a mother, whether two men who love each other can be together, whether the role of a woman should only be defined by her biology, whether the ‘principles of life’ or Dharma can make room for all – man, woman and everything in between.”

To his credit Bose brings these to fore subtly without losing track of the main incident or becoming overbearing. “Throughout the audience will face these questions while they watch the story unfold. But the play never tries to preach or propagate any stance. It leaves the audience to interpret the play with their own sensibilities and understanding of the issues.”

Pattanaik’s book had many sub-stories incorporated in it. Obviously given the time constraint, Bose could not have taken up all of them. What he does is select two which are most pertinent to take the story forward. One deals with Sumedha and Somvat, two Brahmin boys who are affectionate towards each other and how their story relates to Yuvanashva’s. The other is about Shilavati and Simantani, mother and wife of the king. Together, the plot takes up gender roles, sexuality issues, the role of women and the society’s expectations from them, irrespective of their desire and capabilities. “All these issues, about which we are so rigid today, are as relevant today as they were then, if not more,” avers Bose.

In the same vein, Bose points out, “ People tend to forget that we ourselves come from an ancient culture that was private yet tolerant towards these issues.” He is quick to cite examples from Mahabharat and Ramayan, that of King Drupada’s son Shikhandi, King Bhagiratha, who brought the river Ganga down from the heaven to the earth and was born out of the love of two women – widows of a late king of the Sun dynasty, sculptures in the Hindu temples of Khajuraho depicting same-sex unions and that at the Shiva temple in Ambernath. “There are many such examples which do suggest the acceptance and tolerance of these issues in those days, which we consider ‘aberration’ now. This is most likely due to our recent colonial past.”

The fleshing out of “Flesh” took almost a year of scripting, editing and rethinking on part of Bose who states that adapting the 350-page book into a 110-minute play, while keeping the essence of the story was indeed a challenge. The play has undergone a change in terms of format from its earlier avatar which had linear storytelling. “It now has a sutradhar, a storyteller taking the story forward, folk dance and music. This helps in narrating in a better and concise way and connecting and communicating with the audience,” says Bose.

(To be staged on January 14 at LTG Auditorium, Copernicus Marg, Mandi House, 7 p.m.)

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Printable version | Apr 3, 2020 8:58:07 PM |

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