A conflict of epic proportions: Jagriti brings Girish Karnad's Yayati to Chennai
Can a 1960s play inspired by the Mahabharata be relevant in 2018? Absolutely, says Arundhati Raja, artistic director of Bengaluru-based theatre group Jagriti, who will present her recreation of Girish Karnad’s popular play, Yayati, in Chennai this week. “A good plot needs conflict. The conflict in the play is brought about by the quest for power and all that leads to achieving that quest: sexual prowess, social discrimination, gender discrimination, father-son conflict and personal conflict on life’s goals. At present when gender inequality, social and religious intolerance are on the rise, this play remains relevant in all its aspects,” she explains, adding that the script that she will be using in the play is Girish’s own translation of his original script in Kannada.
The plot follows the story of Yayati, one of the ancestors of the Pandavas. “His story is familiar to many, and can be found in the Adi Parva (Book of the Beginning), the first of the 18 books of the Mahabharata,” says the seasoned director, who along with her husband, Jagdish, founded Jagriti . The mythological tale is about when Devayani, Yayati’s Queen, hears of his relationship with her slave, Sharmishta, and she turns to her father Shukracharya for help. Shukracharya curses Yayati with instant old age, which can only be lifted if a young man (in this case, Yayati’s son, Puru) takes the curse upon himself.
Girish’s version, however, does not follow the original story laid down in ancient texts, says Raja. “It follows a more dramatic path, and puts more focus on the women in the story — Queen Devayani, her slave Sharmishtha, the daughter-in-law Chitralekha and Swarnalatha, the maid. These four women assert their rights alongside a son who wishes to rebel against the path set out for him and a father willing to sacrifice his son’s youth in his quest for immortality,” she says, adding that when the play was written, strong women characters were not acceptable in traditional Indian theatre.
The seven-member cast of the play is a diverse group of seasoned thespians, actors, entrepreneurs and white-collared professionals. While the titular role is played by Rohn Malhotra (co-founder of Alma Mater, makers of customised school apparel), Devayani’s role is essayed by Bengaluru-based actor and designer Divya Jain. The other actors in the crew are Jagdish Raja (Sutradhara), Swati De (Sharmi-shta), Vivek Vijayakumaran (Puru), Vandana Prabhu (Swarnalatha) and Urvashi Goverdhan (Chitralekha).
“Although the play is set in ancient India, it has a simple and modern production design, one that evokes the richness of that era. The costumes are a mix of bright block colours with accessories in traditional kalamkari,” Raja elaborates, adding, “the lighting reflects the ‘lamp-lit corners’ where grandmothers sat during ancient times, recounting stories of heroic deeds.” The music will be played by award-winning multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Prakash Sontakke, who will deliver classical Indian music of the Hindustani genre. “This is our 22nd show, after taking it to places like Baroda and Pune (for The Vinod Doshi Theatre Festival),” she says, adding that they plan to stage it in Kolkata, Mumbai and Delhi in the future.
Open to ages 15 and above. March 16. At Rani Seethai Hall. 7.30 pm onwards.