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Play of protest

SANJAY KUMAR

It was drama with a touch of history, a dash of class when "Madiah - The Cobbler" took to stage in New Delhi this week.



NOSTALGIC VALUE A scene from the play "Madiah -- The Cobbler" staged in the Capital recently.

It was a full moon night. In the background was the captivating music of the ensemble. The players walked in with candles. The ambience was electric. Theatre has arrived, so it seemed. Lokendra Arambam, the well-known theatre director from Manipur transformed the space of the parking lot of the School of Art and Aesthetics (SAA) in Jawaharlaal Nehru University into a site of performance. Of protest and anger.

The occasion was the enactment of the play, "Madiah - The Cobbler", the English play adaptation of H.S. Shiva Prakash's remarkable play, "Madadi Madaya" (1991). The play has an important place in the literature of protest espousing the cause of Dalits in Karnataka. Along with Manjae Swami, it became a rallying point for the artistic struggle against caste oppression in India. The play forms part of the trilogy with "Mahacharita" and "Manteswari" of Shiva Prakash's oeuvre of ideological engagement with the aesthetics of radical theatre.

The play is set in the Kalachuri Empire of 12th Century. In that tumultuous age of social religious upheaval under the sage-poet-social reformer, Basavannah, is set the saga of Madiah, the cobbler. Madiah is a legendary hero among Dalits, especially the Gudda sects of south Karnataka. Thus thematically the play is firmly rooted in the tradition of anti-Brahminical artistic discourse of the ostracized communities. It had indeed become a rallying point for Dalit assertion in Karnataka.

Innovative work

The performance was innovative in its use of theatrical devices and commendable for its use of space and music. The narratives in the form of long song and dance sequences were ably resonated with the captivating background music of the songs. In particular was the use of the bell-metal percussion instrument, Kamsale, which gave the performance itself a unique ethnic aura. The use of this dying semi-theatrical device was yet another symbolic assertion of dying ethnic identity in an era of imposed homogenization. Though a classroom production of the SAA students, it had the masterly touch of Lokendra Arambham. As he cites in his prologue to the performance, based on the translated text of Lakshmi Chandrasekhar, "Our attempt is to reflect a redefining of popular theatre through the use of ritual medium. We desire to engage contemporary performative modes with a profound native text."

The storyline meanders around the near mythical life of Madaih, the cobbler, who undergoes the trials and tribulations of his oppressed clan. The costumes and the spatial use of the performative area convey the agony in theatrical metaphors. The tyrant Sravana's forcible marriage with mother Earth marks the opening of the play. Madiah takes his Gudda disciples on a metaphorical journey to the primal city of Kalyana, traversing history, time and place. They encounter religious charlatans, social oppression and gender inequalities. In the final act of denouement, the hero, Madaiah, gifts the king sandals made of burning human flesh, "wrenched in the sweat of the toiling hands". The feet of the tyrant burn with the brimming rage of the oppressed. Yes, indeed, the spectator too must have carried some embers home.

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