MS Sathyu's Vaarasudaaraa reflects the current political climate
92-year-old Padma Shri awardee MS Sathyu worked around age-related issues to bring out his latest play, Vaarasudaaraa, which reflects the current political climate
Even at the age of 92, Padma Shri awardee and veteran playwright MS Sathyu’s zeal to mirror the fate of the contemporary political climate in India is unmatched. Despite several age-related challenges, his recent directorial, Vaarasudaaraa, which was staged at Ranga Shankara on October 2, was a project of passion that Sathyu worked on during the pandemic-induced lockdown.
The result is an act centred around power, betrayal and religious fundamentalism, narrated in Sathyu’s trademark style with a conventional-yet-hard-hitting story. “I know my days are numbered, but I am not worried. The show must go on,” says the veteran artiste, who got a standing ovation for the work of art. Behind the scenes, Sathyu attended rehearsals location at ADA Rangamandira every day at 6pm sharp in February ’21. He was well ahead of time, arriving much before the artistes showed up for practice. Then, the lockdown due to the second wave of the pandemic kicked in, and at the same time, Sathyu suffered a hip fracture. At that point, videos of the rehearsals were sent to him.
And despite his health challenge, Sathyu would pick out even minute mistakes, corrections in body movements, props and costumes. Presented by popular theatre group Samudaya Bengaluru, Vaarasudaaraa is a play cautioning the public against the ‘polarising times we live in’. The story is set in the 17th century during the Mughal rule where Shah Jahan’s sons Daaraa, Shuja, Aurangzeb and Muraad battle it out to inherit the Mughal Empire. It also exemplifies how communalism triumphs over brotherhood following the victory of Aurangazeb, who was known for his barbaric leadership.
“The play is a depiction of the current times we live in. History is just repeating itself. Politics is only getting communal. I am someone who has always tried to display the socio-political apathy that surrounds us,” says Sathyu, who began his directorial journey as an assistant director with producer Chetan Anand for a play Anjali in 1956. “That is the first time I got an opportunity to say lights, camera, action,” adds Sathyu, whose other popular works include Gul E Bakavali, Dara Shikoh, Rashmon, Kuri among others.
Sathyu has always been vocal about social issues since his student days when he was active in the ‘left movement’ and was highly inspired by the Marxist Communist ideology. “The activist in me has been alive since my school days. I was also part of the left movement when I worked in Mumbai and Delhi, after I left Bengaluru in 1950. The stories of the down-trodden always move me. Hence, my films focused on social issues,” says Sathyu, who is also a photographer and art director.
Freedom of expression seems to have come under attack in recent times. However, Sathyu, who has lived through several defining historical moments, feels that restrictions are an old trick— something that’s tried and tested. “I respond to such attacks through my plays. Kuri, a Kannada play, actually irked a section of society because of the state anthem that was infused in the play. The next time around, I asked the cast to replace it with the national anthem as a response to the attack we faced. We were shocked to see that nobody in the crowd stood up, including the group that started an agitation movement against us,” recalls Sathyu, who has also directed films like Garam Hava, Chithegu Chinthe and Bara.
With the changing dynamics in producing a play or film, Sathyu prefers sticking to the analog method of direction. “I still do photoshoots in the traditional way, using negatives. I don’t like the digital format. OTT platforms might be picking up, but watching theatre plays live is always unmatched,” says Sathyu, adding, “It is important to keep theatre alive even during tough times.”