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THEATRE REVIEW

Politicians on THE PROWL



Kuri has not lost its relevance since its first performance 25 years ago.

THE STAGING of Kuri directed by M.S.Sathyu, was perhaps the best tribute Samudaya could have paid to Dr.H. Narasimhiah, a patron of theatre who represented the spirit of enquiry and led the struggle against superstitions and god-men. The play demonstrates what happens when people accept things without questioning and how they become prey to predatory politicians and religious leaders.

First staged at the open-air theatre of the Chitrakala Parishath 25 years ago, Kuri had created history. The organisers had to seek help from the police who had resorted to lathi charge to control the crowds that thronged to see the play every evening. There had been an uproar about the take off on the national anthem and this had led to fiery discussions about the origin and controversies relating to the choice of our national anthem. This time too the play had to be staged under police protection, though for a very different reason.

Though political satires tend to get outdated pretty fast because of their highly topical nature, Kuri does not seem to have lost its relevance since it was first produced 25 years ago. A bit of updating with names and party symbols was all that the play needed to reflect the current political scenario in the country.

Hilarious satire

An adaptation of Sarvesh Dayal Saxena 's Hindi play Gandhiji ki Bakri, Kuri is a hilarious satire on the way Gandhiji's name has been exploited in post-independent India. The central character of the play is a goat which belongs to a poor, dalit woman.

A group of thieves, looking for a new con-trick, decide to play on people's regard for Gandhiji by parading the stolen animal as the descendent of the Mahatma's favourite goat. Costumed in khadi, khaki and saffron, they have no difficulty persuading the needy, superstitious villagers to believe in the divinity of the animal and exploiting their faith. They also know how to deal with dissenters. The woman who claims the goat to be hers and the young man who warns the villagers against their tricks are thrown into prison.

Each day brings new stories about the miracles performed by Bakri Maatha. Hoards of new institutions crop up every day to collect funds in the name of Bakri Maatha. When they have milked the goat till it is dry, they feast on its meat.

Too late, the villagers realise that they have been take for a ride. In what appears to symbolise revolutionary violence, we have the gang of thieves being surrounded by the villagers carrying sticks and chanting one of Dr. Siddalingaiah's famous revolutionary songs.

Conceived as a musical in the popular Nautanki style and convincingly adapted by C.P. Ravikumar, Kuri is full of songs set to tune by the well-known sarod maestro, Dr. Rajeev Taranath.

The songs are often a take off on well-known devotional or patriotic songs, including the national anthem. The discrepancy between the sober, classical tunes and the satirical content of the songs adds to the humour, which works at various levels ranging from crude slapstick to subtler forms of satire.

More simplistic

A noticeable change from the earlier production is Kuri's costume, which is a patchwork of various party symbols. One cannot help wondering if the prominent presence of both the lotus and the sickle on the costume is a reflection of the present political confusion and suggestive of the fact that the left is no longer seen as a clear alternative to the misrule by the other parties.

The end, therefore, appears more simplistic now than it did earlier.

But for the inclusion of a few new names and punch lines, there is no change in the design or technique of the play. Since today's audience is used to a little more sophistication, they are likely to find the play somewhat amateurish and crude, at times.

The inexperience of the artistes, particularly in the crowd scenes, contributes to the impression. (M.G. Venkatesh who plays the Nata is the only one from the old cast.) Though the lead actors perform reasonably well, not many of the artistes appear to understand all the nuances and implications of the words they speak.

Music too needs to be a little livelier. A great improvement is in the Kuri itself. Swathi Sharma's lively act gives a new dimension to the animal and seems to suggest a more aggressive, but equally gullible set of voters.

LAXMI CHANDRASHEKAR

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