The concept of illusions was taken onto an entirely different plane with Sopana's production of Maya, based on the Ramayana
Creative artistes continue to find new meanings and new relevance in the epics Ramayana and Mahabharatha, which have inspired numerous works of art through the ages. The name Rama itself took on a new significance in Maya, a fascinating version of the Ramayana presented by Sopanam Repertory of Tiruvananthapuram during the last lap of Bharath Rang Mahotsav. Directed by Kavalam Narayana Panikkar, one of the most respected names in Indian theatre, Maya was based on the third act of Aashcharya Choodamani composed by Shakthibhadra in the 9th century.
The act revolves around the kidnapping of Sita by Ravana with the help of Mareecha. The uniqueness of the play lies in the role played by Maya or illusion in the episode. While Ravana takes on the form of Rama in order to deceive Sita, the driver of his chariot furthers the illusion by disguising himself as Lakshmana. Shoorpanakha delays Rama's pursuit of Ravana by transforming herself into Sita. So we have the real Rama walking in the forest along with Maya Sita and the real Sita travelling in Ravana's chariot. Both Rama and Sita are equally convinced that the one accompanying them is their real spouse. In the mean time, Lakshmana too is misled by Mareecha who takes on the form of Rama. So convincing is Mareecha's act that Lakshmana actually gets ready to fight the real Rama, mistaking him for a demon in disguise.
The play ends with the suggestion that Rama is a set of qualities rather than a person and it is, perhaps, Mareecha who comes closest to achieving Ramatva.
The entire episode evokes a sense of wonder or aashcharya, in the characters as well as the audience. It was not just the interpretation, but even the unique style of presentation which filled the audience, gathered in the J.S.S Auditorium in the city, with wonder. Well known for his innovative use of traditional art forms, Panikkar had combined elements of Koodiattam with other theatrical devices to come up with a play, which was a feast to the eyes and ears.
The pace was just right, a little faster than that of Koodiattam which would have seemed a little too slow for a modern, urban audience. Brilliant use of colours, carefully designed costume elements, beautifully choreographed movements, excellent use of music and rhythm made the play a delightful experience. The on-stage transformation of the characters was handled with great skill. The visualisation of Ravana's ten heads, through the use of multiple actors and the mask hung against the backdrop, was really impressive. The actors moved with grace and sang well too. Language did not seem to be a barrier at all since much of the play communicated through movement, facial expressions and rhythm.
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