Lights on ancient traditions

Singing Tales

Stories in a Song’, a play directed by Sunil Shanbhag, was recently held in the City.

hilarious Ketki Thatte and Namit Das (extreme right) in Bahadur Ladki.

The play was a musical collage of theatre, literature and history, and unravelled the cultural strands that make up the rich tapestry of Hindustani music. Not only did this beautiful musical appeal to afficionados of Hindustani music, but it also managed to give the ignorant a crash-course on the various forms of the tradition.

Be it kajri, thumri-dadra, khayal or even the remix, the entire collage of stories brought together everything you’d ever want to see in a play — a tight narrative and excellent performances.

The play opens to a rather interesting episode from India’s forgotten past — this one, surprisingly from the Independence movement, narrating the tale of a tawaif in Amritsar and her encounter with Gandhiji at a tawaif mahasabha.

Keerthana, who had come to watch the play from Yelahanka, said, “This story was the most appealing to me. You could never think that a tawaif could be so progressive. I was really left smiling at Ketki Thatte’s performance and wondered why we haven’t seen more of her,” she said.

The play is divided into two parts. The last episode of the first half  was definitely the crowning glory of the performance. Ketki and Namit Das had the audience rolling in laughter in Bahadur Ladki. The story speaks of a feisty girl who dares to confront a cruel and exploitative English officer from the colonial times. Performed in the nautanki style, the story was driven by dance, satire and sharp wit.

Post the break, one returned to a soul-stirring story in the qawwali form. The story celebrated faith, joy and spring  and revolved around Hazrat Nizamuddin, the saintly man in whose honour Basant Panchami is still celebrated by devout Muslims at his dargah in Delhi.

The actors then transported the audience to today’s reality of classical music. The hard-hitting tale of remix culture told in a very tongue-in-cheek manner gave the audience glimpses of the sanctity of the gharana tradition and how their own compositions are later adapted to fit popular film numbers.

The zenith, however, is reached in the concluding episode. An ode to the kajri traditions of Northern India, the actors, quite mellifluously and believably recreate a kajri competition of sorts, where they debate a question through their form of song and modulation.

“Namit Das really owned this piece. Especially the English composition he sang left me in splits. His voice was the highlight for me. I simply didn’t want the play to end,” said Krithika, from the audience.

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