G Venu's latest Kutiyattam performance is an adaptation of Bhasa’s anti-war play Urubhangam
Celebrated Sanskrit playwright Bhasa’s Urubhangam is known for offering an alternative perspective of the Mahabharata. While many directors have attempted to stage Urubhangam, this weekend, the Abhinaya Kalari team from the Natanakairali arts institution presents the Kutiyattam version of the play. Directed by G Venu, the dance drama is being staged as part of Ranga Shankara’s 15 years celebrations.
Of all the 13 plays penned by Bhasa, Urubhangam is the most extraordinary, says Venu. He explains, “Bhasa always looked at Purana stories differently. For example, he offered a different perspective to Ramayana through his other plays. He established what he wanted to say through his work. Bhasa wrote Urubhangam as an anti-war play.” Bhasa cast Duryodhana’s character in a new light. Unlike the usual interpretations, Duryodhana is portrayed as the protagonist with heroic qualities and the narrative offers an objective view of the events that lead up to the battle of Mahabharata.
Keeping it concise
The original script by Bhasa features nearly 40 characters, however, Kutiyattam performances are usually solo or with just a handful of actors on stage. Explaining the reason behind it Kapila Venu, one of the actors says, “This helps in delving deeper into every character.”
This version features only four characters — Balarama, Duryodhana, Gandhari and Ashwatthama. Balarama is in a dilemma whether to take his student, Duryodhana’s side, or to stand by his brother Krishna, who is in the opposing camp. Gandhari is enraged because she thinks war is unnecessary and Krishna could have avoided it. While Duryodhana comes to terms with the deceit meted out to him, Ashwatthama wants to avenge his father’s death. It’s this complexity of issues that’s deciphered through the narration.
Let there be light
This is the first time that Urubhangam has been adapted to stage as a Kutiyattam performance and this makes it unique. For the uninitiated, Kutiyattam is one of the oldest theatrical traditions from Kerala and is the only surviving art for m to use ancient Sanskrit. For director Venu, this is an important production and he believes Urubhangam is critically relevant in today’s age. “Not having a war is the takeaway from this play. What we realise is that even a king can fall on the battlefield and face death,” he concludes.
Rs 300. January 26, 7.30 pm. At Ranga Shankara, JP Nagar