‘Epic’ festival

Sakal Times
Tuesday, 20 February 2018

The 10th Annual Vinod Doshi Memorial Theatre Festival is currently underway in the city. Arwa Janjali catches up with the playwrights and seeks their thoughts on performing at  the much-awaited festival

From mythology to contemporary

Completing a decade of bringing plays from across the country for theatre aficionados in the city, the 10th Annual Vinod Doshi Memorial Theatre Festival, kickstarted with Satish Alekar’s iconic play Mahanirvan on Monday (check adjoining box for the report). 

The festival will also see the revival of Girish Karnad’s epic Kannada drama Yayati (on February 23) by director Arundhati Raja. 

The artistic director of Bengaluru-based Jagriti Theatre, Raja is a self-confessed fan of Karnad’s works. She has adapted several plays of the eminent playwright and is looking forward to showcase Karnad’s coveted classic Yayati in English (translated by Karnad himself) at the festival, where she displays her work for the first time. 

“With Yayati, I like how Karnad turns a basic mythological story into an intensely dramatic piece,” Raja says, who is set to close the festival with her adaptation of the classic.

The play revolves around the Puranic king Yayati — an ancestor of the Pandavas — whose story appears in Mahabharata — AdiParva (The Book of the Beginning). But what drew Raja to the story were the four strong female characters. “What Karnad has done with Yayati is that he has given powerful voices to these four women against the patriarchal society. And he has shown how the king is affected by them,” she reveals, adding,

“The play was not performed for many years because it had so many women in it.”

Apart from setting a stage for classics, the festival will also live up to its commitment of providing a platform to new, emerging and experimental works from India’s theatre circuit. Among this category is New Delhi’s Katkatha Puppet Arts, which is coincidentally also performing Mahabharata (February 22).

However, this Hindi/English play is with life-size puppets, masks, shadow puppets etc. “The basic content of our play revolves around the Kurukshetra war. What leads up to the war and what happens after that....a theme which is very relevant right now in the world at large,” says Anurupa Roy, the play’s director and a puppeteer for the last 20 years.

Roy’s Mahabharata also delves into Karnataka’s shadow puppet tradition, called Togalu Gombeyaata. “There are many versions of Mahabharata and this particular one belongs to the oral history form, told by Karnataka’s tribal hunting community, Sillakeyata,” Roy shares. Owing to its strong regional flavour, the performance will have Kannada verses sung live on stage.

Talking about the use of puppets in the epic, the puppeteer says, “Mahabharata is a story where many metaphors are played out. And in my play, the puppets play out these metaphorical dynamics in the story.” Roy is thrilled to be performing at the festival, where she too will exhibit her work for the first time. “Theatre has predominantly been an actor’s medium. But I don’t work with actors. I work with dead material. So what is significant for us is that our performance is being recognised as a part of such a big, mainstream platform,” she says.

While Raja and Roy are first timers at the festival, Mumbai-based theatre director, screenwriter and documentary filmmaker Sunil Shanbag has been a consistent presence at the fest with his shows. This year, his group Tamaasha Theatre will present Words Have Been Uttered — an amalgamation of poetry, songs, theatre, satire...above all, ‘stories’ in Urdu, Hindi, English and Punjabi. 

“I won’t call it a play. It’s a performance that explores the idea of dissent. The texts are from across eras and from different countries like Afghanistan, Syria, Pakistan, USA, Palestine and Iraq, along with India,” Shanbag informs.

Another Mumbai production that will be staged at the festival this year is the Hindi play Bandish 20-20,000Hz by Aarambh Mumbai Productions LLP. Written and directed by Purva Naresh, the play is an insightful glimpse into the history of bans issued on artists and how they have impacted their artistic journeys.

ST Reader Service
The 10th Annual Vinod Doshi Memorial Theatre Festival is on till February 23. The shows are scheduled 7.30 pm onwards at Yashwantrao Chavan Natyagruha 

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