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Towards a new dawn

DIWAN SINGH BAJELI

A powerful production of H.S. Shivaprakash's play "Mahachaitra" went on the boards recently.


Director Rajendran has used elements from different theatrical styles such as semi-folk, realism and epic theatre in an imaginative manner.



REFLECTION OF TRUTH A scene from H.S. Shivaprakash's revolutionary play "Mahachaitra" .

Playwright H.S. Shivaprakash dramatises in his play "Mahachaitra", a revolutionary movement of artisans and socially marginalized people against Brahmanical supremacy that perpetuates the degrading caste system. Based on the 12th Century movement in Karnataka that shook the foundations of a social order controlled by the privileged upper crust of the ruling class, the play was staged in B.R. Narayan's Hindi translation from the original Kannada by Sanchaari under the auspices of Bahroop at K.C. open-air stage, Jawaharlal Nehru University recently before a large audience who watched it with rapt attention.

The play opens with the violent protests of Brahmins against the marriage of a Brahmin girl with the son of a low caste artisan — this kind of matrimonial alliance is made possible under the influence of the social movement started by saint-poet Basavana.

The priests declare it a forbidden marriage that will bring disaster to society. On the other hand, the followers of the saint-poet celebrate the occasion as the harbinger of a new social order.

The caste-class confrontation takes the form of a bloody civil war. The whole society is at war against itself.

Shivaprakash is a well-known Kannada playwright and poet who has won several awards including the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award (1997). His "Mahachaitra" was first produced by the late CGK, a leading Kannada theatre artiste in 1986, and the playwright won the Karnataka Sahitya Academy Prize the same year for this play.

Controversial

Later, it evoked controversy in the State for its bold treatment of the caste system, which has been robbing a large number of people of their dignity and human rights in India over the centuries.

The controversy caught the attention of theatre practitioners in different parts of the country. Ever since, it has been translated into several Indian languages, including Bangla, Malayalam, Hindi, apart from its translation into English. In Kannada it was revived by Iqbal Ahmed for Samdaya, which was presented at the theatre festival organised by the Sangeet Natak Akademi in Chandigarh in 1992.

The production was directed by K.S. Rajendran, a faculty member of the National School of Drama, whose past productions reveal his complex creativity, his artistic vision and aesthetic sensibility in tune with the demands of the modern audience.

Rajendran has used elements from different theatrical styles such as semi-folk, realism and epic theatre in an imaginative manner.

The use of recorded music score in original Kannada composed by saint-poet Basavana imparts an intricacy, heightening the mood and dramatic conflict with a soul stirring effect — this Bhakti poetry is rendered in beautiful voices.

The Indian highlights of the production are arresting imagery and the lyrical beauty of the stylised movements of the performers. Though Basavana, his message, mission and personality, are the fulcrum of the play, he does not appear on the stage.

The denouement scene, enacting the assassination of the tyrant king in the ritualistic style, is powerful enough to leave a deep impression on the audience. The oppressive dark winter finally gives way to spring to signify the dawn of a new social system and a humane religion.

The production is aptly cast. Sanjay Gautam in the role of the tyrant king gives a powerful performance, projecting various emotional levels of his character with telling effect. Laxmi Rawat as the wife of Basavana and the sister of the king brings to her portrayal dignity, emotional restraint and deep conviction in the social and religious philosophy of her husband.

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