Karnad's last play is now a big production

Well-known theatre director Arjun Sajnani is producing Girish’s Karnad’s last play, and the show promises to be spectacular.
“This should be a film,”Arjun Sajnani had exclaimed when Karnad sent him the script of ‘Crossing to Talikota’.
Karnad wrote the play in Kannada as Rakshasa-Tangadi in 2018 and its translation was published in English in May this year.
‘Crossing to Talikota’, deals with the fall of Vijayanagara, one of the greatest empires of south India, following the death of king ‘Aliya’Ramaraya.
‘Aliya’is Kannada for son-in-law, and Ramaraya was the son-in-law of Krishnadevaraya, one of the great emperors who ruled benevolently over all of south India and beyond. Ramaraya became the de-facto ruler, but did not ascend the throne because of his ‘low-birth’status.
Akin to a Greek tragedy, this is as much a story of Ramaraya’s hubris as it is of the history of the Deccan.
Karnad entrusted the first-ever production of the play to Arjun Sajnani, who had produced some of his earlier plays.
Owner of Sunny’s restaurant on Lavelle Road, Bengaluru, Sajnani is a well-known name in theatre.
“When a playwright picks a director and says I hope you do this play, it’s a big honour. He did that with me for ‘The Fire and the Rain’and he did it with this one,”says Sajnani.
The friendship goes back two decades. It began with Karnad seeking out Sajnani after watching ‘A Day in Hollywood and a Night in Ukraine’. He was impressed by Sajnani’s high production values. Within a week, a copy of The Fire and the Rain was waiting in Sajnani’s mailbox.
Sajnani directed the play in 2000, and it was staged at Chowdaiah Memorial Hall in Bengaluru. He also directed ‘Bali-The Sacrifice’, one of the few plays that Karnad wrote originally
in English.
In 2002, Sajnani directed ‘Agni Varsha’, the Hindi version of ‘The Fire and the Rain’, with a cast that included movie stars Milind Soman, Sonali Kulkarni, Jackie Shroff, Raveena Tandon, and Nagarjuna.
‘Crossing to Talikota’is the fourth collaboration between the writer and the director.
For many Kannadigas, the first impression of Vijayanagara is Rajkumar’s unforgettable portrayal of Krishnadevaraya.
Stories about the wealth of his capital and its eventual ruin are part of our lore.
In ‘Crossing to Talikota’, Karnad has given one of the greatest gifts to the people of Karnataka — a fictional reconstruction of the events leading to the fall of Vijayanagara empire.
But, it is also more than that, says Sajnani. Without giving anything away, he talks about an ‘emotional twist’and the challenge in portraying it on stage: “In the script, this (emotional twist) doesn’t hit you straight away. But as I work more and more with it, the deeper I go, many meanings and layers unfold.”
For Sajnani, “the job of the director is to unravel those layers and make them plain to people.”
Though based on historical events, the fall of Vijayanagara is seen as the fall of a Hindu empire following an oninvaders.
However, Karnad complicates this view by bringing together two religious groups to the battleground, but not making their fight about religion alone.
“The one thing that I respect and admire is that he takes a story of Hindu-Muslim rulers, gives them equal value, and shows that it is not a religious quarrel but a political quarrel,”Sajnani
says.
The cast of 30 includes Ashok Mandanna, Veena Sajnani, and Swati Dey among others. Music is by Prakash Sontakke and costumes are by Priya Benegal. Arun Sagar has done the production design.
“A lot of things have been ordered online,”says Sajnani, chuckling.
He is confident about presenting a “splendid piece of history” with minimum props and costumes. Though the scale is cinematic, he is conscious about keeping the production’s stage elements alive.
The world premiere of ‘Crossing to Talikota’is being supported by Nandan and Rohini Nilekeni as well as Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw.

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