When I first read Kanthi Tripathi’s poetic drama Kurukshetra and After I was most impressed by her command over the English language and the exquisite poetry, which was a sheer delight to read and relish. Every word in the text had a significance and relevance to the theme. Indian Theatre suffers from a shortage of playwrights and here was a fresh writer with an original outlook. What was even more exciting was the fact that she wrote in an Indian context in the English language, which thus had an international reach. This play is especially about the impact that war has on the lives of women in particular and their struggle to come to terms with its aftermath. Feminist issues and matters of social relevance formed a large body of work I had done earlier in theatre. This became an added reason to mount the play . The long search for five actresses with a good command over English language began and we finally evolved a dynamic and capable team. Thus was born Stage Buzz, a new group with promise. Since this was Kanthi’s first play, she agreed that some reworking had to be done to make it fully compatible for the stage. This became an advantage, since the writer became a part of the process of development of the play. We had innumerable workshops and improvisations to evolve the structure and simultaneously Kanthi too was dishing out new versions of the script.
The setting of this play, is the post war Scenario in the city of Hastinapur just after the end of the great Kurukshetra War between the Kauravs and the Pandavs, as told in the Indian epic, Mahabharat. The main characters in the play are: the royalty represented by, Panchali. Kunti and Gandhari on one hand and the common people of Hastinapur represented by two royal maids in the palace, Sevika and Kinkari.
Whenever you do a historic play with contemporary relevance, the question that comes to your mind is whether to do it in the period format or to anchor it in terms of ambience to the present day milieu. This was the dilemma that stood before me. The three royal women had not been able to, or willing to prevent the war despite the fact that they were in positions of power, and capable of influencing the events. The common soldier of Bahrat lost his life for the rivalries between the royalty, however just the war may have been. The similarities to the present context of war and the duties of rulers towards their own people are some of the issues that the play touches upon.
If you are doing a period play and don’t want the audience to just have a catharsis thinking it happened 2,500 years ago and leave without thinking about the issues involved, then you must have some elements in your design which link to the present context. This could also be generated through the style of the performance. The characters in the play deal more with ideas and rationale for their past actions and there is hardly any interaction with material objects. Thus the abstract ideas had to be given material visual substance. This could only be done by making the visual compositions reflective of the text. Some elements in design of the play are derived from Indian classical dances and ancient scriptures, such as the mudras that the various performers adopt and the shlokas the Rishi recites.
Death is ever-present in the play and the Mask seen somewhere represents Shiva as Mahakaal who destroys everything over Time. There are little specificities that each character has. For example Gandhari is blindfolded, she is not blind. Behind her blindfold her eyes express the inner turmoil of her being. Shouldn’t therefore the audience be able to see her eyes? The common women who represent the tortured soul of the nation often speak the same language as the royalty yet what they want to say is exactly the opposite. Shouldn’t they also be the interpreters of the playwright’s viewpoint? While these questions would perhaps best be answered by the show itself, all one can say is that fortunately all the actresses in this play are seasoned and experienced performers of the English stage and they should be able to get the nuances of each character well.
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