Classic tale retold at a theatre extravaganza

16th Bharat Rang Mahotsav

Classic tale retold at a theatre extravaganza

Chhaya Shakuntalam is a retelling of Kalidasa’s Abhijnana Shakuntalam by the famous Hindi poet Udayan Vajpeyi

Decked with flowers amidst thick forest, a young woman tries to ward off a drone and is rescued by a beguiled king who falls in love with her. The scene evokes humour with its presentation and pays tribute to the great poet Kalidasa by depicting his work Abhijanana Shakuntalam as Chhaya Shakuntalam for the inaugural event of 16th Bharat Rang Mahotsav organised by National School of Drama (NSD). 

As the bigul for the 15-day theatre extravaganza was sounded in the presence of thespians like Ratan Thiyam, the audience waited with thinly veiled excitement for the performance of the classic tale, retold by noted Hindi poet Udayan Vajpeyi and dramatised by veteran Kavalam Narayana Panikkar for the NSD Repertory Company.

Though the classic has seen a number of adaptations over time, the themes of ‘oblivion’ and ‘remembrance’ run through almost all of them. What varies is the style of presentation and the technique in which the tale is approached. In this case, Panikkar stays close to the erstwhile-style of making actors sing their dialogues and keep the pace of the narrative slow. 
One is reminded of the charm of old Hindi movies and theatre where the presence of friends, a comedian and even animals is as essential to the scheme of things as the main characters - Shakuntala and Dushyanta. Thus, the plot provides ample space to all, even when not required such as in the case of Dushyanta’s friend, who consumes a chunk of time, which could have been otherwise utilised to elaborate  on the climax. The chorus, on the other hand, adds to the narrative and the visual presentation in scenes where Shakuntala is leaving the abode of her father to go to Dushyanta’s palace. Few moments such as the appearance of actors in the guise of ‘Sun’ and ‘Moon’ in the initial scene is breathtaking!

Elaborate costumes designed by Hema Singh enhance the beauty of this visual treat which delves deeper than its superficial surface of a battered love story intermingled with song and dance. The same is presented by the Sutradhar and conveys to the audience later, why he sings Tarangita..., referring to the source of ‘river’ – where the crucial ‘ring’ is discovered.

As actors take a leap from the present day to travel back into times of Kalidasa, where Gods intervened in the daily proceedings of a man’s life, the characters portraying them do a brilliant job of following the director’s scheme of design, to arouse navarasa in the audiences. The director, however, states in his note that the play is relevant even in the present context for it “Suggests that the limit of one’s own rights, irrespective of whether one is the ruler or ruled, has to be prescribed by some superimposed sanction, lest the social equilibrium be disturbed.”

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