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A great mind at play

The plays presented during the festival Parampare showed Lankesh's enormous range as a playwright



ROYAL BLEND Oedipus presented a powerful blend of poetry and prose

It has been a season of theatre festivals in Bangalore. Even before Ranga Shankara had completed its 17-day national festival to mark its first anniversary, the Karnataka Nataka Academy had started its series of festivals to celebrate the golden jubilee of the formation of the State. At the tail end of the last festival came the weeklong bonanza by Antaranga, a theatre group which has completed 25 years. Now, Bangalore Habba has performances in every theatre in the city. There will be more theatre happening in January when the National School of Drama brings here its annual theatre festival.

Parampare, the theatre festival organised by the Karnataka Nataka Academy, featured some of the landmark productions by different theatre groups along with lectures on our theatre traditions by noted playwrights such as Chandrashekara Kambara.

Unique feature

This was followed by a festival of children's plays, a unique feature of which was a series of plays presented by slum children. The academy had sent trained theatre persons to different slums in the city to work with the children there and the result was stunning. The plays were notable for their energy and freshness.

The third part of Parampare was a festival of plays by P. Lankesh, one of the most influential writers of our times. Apart from discussions, which followed each performance, the academy had also organised a day-long seminar on Lankesh's works.

Lankesh has left behind a large body of work including plays, poems, short stories, novels and translations. The plays presented during the festival showed Lankesh's range as a playwright, his use of the spoken language, his insight into the human predicament and his understanding of the relationship between politics and society.

One of the plays which had raised great hopes was Sankranti directed by Prakash Belavadi for Abhinaya Taranga. Through the characters of Basavanna and Bijjala, the play depicts the clash between ideology and political realities and its impact on the common people. Though there were moments when production clicked, it was more because of the power of the script rather than the rendering of it. Sihikahi Chandru had the majestic presence Bijjala's character needed, but did not receive much support from the other characters. This resulted in the lengthy debate between him and Basavanna becoming rather dull and monotonous. Pallavi, as Usha, seemed pretty regal in her Malayali costume (though one failed to see the logic behind making the girls look like Malayalis), the actor in Pallavi did not have much scope. The tiger motif, so prominent in stage design, fell flat in the actual presentation.

On a metaphysical plane

Though directed by Sridharamurthy, Gunamukha, the only other full-length play by Lankesh, was more in Basavalingaiah's style. The play revolves round the relationship between Nadir Shah and the doctor who cures him of his strange disease. Since the illness happens to be more metaphysical than of the body, the curer persuades his patient to turn inward. A peculiar feature of the production was the way Nadir Shah's illness had been visualised as a separate body tangled up with him. But the large-cast, grand production appeared to depend so much on externals that the quiet inner voice could not be heard.

Kalagangotri had chosen an even more difficult task, of presenting Lankesh's translation of the ancient Greek tragedy Oedipus. One of the greatest tragedies ever written, the play revolves round Oedipus's relentless pursuit of truth and its disastrous consequences. It is this thirst for truth that condemns him to the fate he tries to run away from — of killing his father and marrying his own mother. Himself a poet, Lankesh manages to capture the rhythm of the play through a language which is a powerful blend of poetry and speech. B.V. Rajaram as Oedipus had the range and clarity to hold the audience with his delivery of lengthy passages. But this was at the cost of his role as director.

Being constantly in the frame himself and having to focus so much on his own character, he, perhaps, did not realise how raw and clumsy some of the scenes were.

Though there was some good acting by the older members of the cast, the chorus, so crucial in a Greek tragedy, appeared totally neglected. They looked shabby and fumbled through their speeches.

There was no sense of design or harmony in their movement and their monotonous, repetitive gestures. It would have looked a little more dignified if the younger boys had been kept out of it. Costumes needed more research and artistic sense. Sets too were overdone and made the stage look crowded.

The rest of the plays included in the festival were either one act plays such as Nanna Tangigondu Gandu Kodi, Siddathe, Teregalu, Policeriddare Echcharike or adaptations of his stories such as Biruku and Mussanjeya Kathaprasanga. These varied in quality and appeal depending on the competence of the directors and artistes.

LAXMI CHANDRASHEKAR

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