A touch of Punjabiyat to the Greek tragedy

A touch of Punjabiyat to the Greek tragedy

Revolutionary ideas

“Sabton khatarnaak hunda hai murda shanti naal bhar jana Na hona tadap da, sab sehan kar jaana Gharan ton nikalna kamm teTe kamm toh ghar jaanaSab ton khatarnaak hunda heSadde supniyan da marjaana”- Paash 
These lines roughly translate as “It is most dangerous to be filled with dead peace, not to feel agony, simply bear it all, leaving home for work, and from work returning home. Most dangerous is the dying of our dreams.”

If we had to pick the most intriguing element from Project Antigone, the Punjabi play staged by Atelier Theatre Company in collaboration with the Punjabi Academy at Shri Ram Centre recently, it has to be the way poetry, that too by Punjabi poets like Paash and Jagtar, was interweaved in Sophocles’ Greek tragedy, Antigone. 

As the play opens, the narrator guides the audience into the plot, announcing that Polyneices was a traitor and whoever buries his body will be punished by the state. Antigone, his sister, prods her younger sister Ismene if she would go along with her to bury their dead brother, and Ismene questions the proposition wondering about the repercussions. The stage lights up and enter the characters, Antigone and Creone for a dialogue that ensues thereafter. 

According to the Greek legend, Oedipus’ sons Polyneices and Etiocles die fighting each other for the throne of Thebes leading into their uncle Creon becoming the King. As Polyneices had attacked and Etiocles defended the city, the king Creon buries the latter with an elaborate funeral service and declares the former as traitor, leaving his mortal remains unburied.  

The play deals with the tenuous relationships as Antigone protests the overwhelming laws of the society against her individual rights as she is determined to bury her dead brother. The play interweaves four different narratives as the actual story, the dialogue between Creon and Antigone runs parallel with the artiste on stage painting a picture on one end, a live musician on the other end and the narrator who weaves together the texts. 

This is director Kuljeet Singh’s first Punjabi play, in a career in theatre spanning over a decade. Speaking to Metrolife he said, “Project Antigone is a metaphor of defiance for me. Defiance against authoritarianism...na jhukkan di parampara. That’s where I locate the essence of Punjabiyat. Through the poetry of Faiz Ahmad Faiz and revolutionary poets like Paash, I have explored Project Antigone.” 

As a professor of English Literature in Delhi University, Kuljeet Singh has been a part of ‘Punjabi Boli Morcha’, a movement against driving modern Indian languages such a Punjabi and Urdu out of the sphere of academic curricular under the Four Year Undergraduate Programme (FYUP). 

“Punjabi was being taught in 17 colleges under DU as an optional course before it got limited to only three colleges offering Honours courses under FYUP,” explains the director.

It definitely makes for a compelling watch and for a deeper understanding, one may like to catch its second show on June 1 at India Habitat Centre.