Theatre and technology
September 18, 2016 § 2 Comments
I was eight- years- old when my parents took me to see a play called ‘Dasavataram’ by Nawab Rajamanikkam Pillai group at a specially raised stage in Kumbakonam Town High Scahool play ground. It was a Vaikunda Ekadesi day and in those days, the vaishnavite Hindus observed it rigourously by fasting and keeping awake the whole night. What better way there would be to keep awake than watching a play dealing with the avatars of Lord Vishnu? People really believed that adding entertainment to a religious observance is no sin. It became the part of the ritual.
Nawab Rajamanikkam Pillai had become a stage legend at that time. He only staged mythological and devotional plays. He was the only adult among his actors, the restof them were children.His argument was that once children become teen agers they develop bad habits and as such, were unfit for roles in religious plays. He always took the villains’ role like Kamsa , Ravana andothers. He used to look huge and towering with a scary mustache in the role of the villain and a young slip of a boy not older than eight years of age, in the role of Rama or Krishna, would challenge him on the stage to fight with him in a thin voice in the highest octave that broke often and yet, the faithful audience , perhaps in a wiiling suspension of critical faculty, would roar in great admiration and religious piety.
The play ‘Dasavatar’ was the first ever play I went ,as my parents felt that it was a safe play I could see.. It began at 10 p.m. It was a night long play closing at 5 a.m, .As the curtains went up, the stage was steeped in total darkness. There was complete silence, not one, including the children whispered. Suddenly the theatre thundered with a smattering noise, as if it was bombed. In utter fear I began to cry and buried my face in my mother’s lap .It was a tense and electrifying moment, literally. The stage was flooded with illumination, a splendid and spectacular experience. In the centre stage arose an ocean milky-white in colour and lying on it in a multi-headed snake-bed was Lord Vishnu Most of the people, who had come to see the play, rose in great devotion, with both their hands raised above their heads and shouted ‘Narayana’ genuinely experiencing awesome fear and devotion Later, I used to think that experience was ‘theatre in its essence’.
In the theatre of thirties, during the last century Nawab Rajamanikkam had no access to technology of any kind and yet, that he could create a make-believe spectacle with mere gas lights was a real marvel. It was a triumph of human imagination over technology.
I strongly believe that since theatre is a mirror of human life on the stage, it should explore all possibilities of exploiting the human potential, instead of surrendering to technology.
The second time I had this thrilling experience of seeing a play was when I saw Satyadev Dubey’s production of Girish Karnad’s play ‘Hayavadana’.
It is a Vikramaditya folklore, translated in German by Zimmer and adapted by Thomas Mann into a novel entitled ‘Transposed Heads’. Girish made it into a beautiful play.
Earlier I had seen several productions of this play but Dubey’s rendering stood out. Why?
He used no props, no visual eye-fillings such as fearsome Kali idol , as occurring in the story. The hero , remembering that that he has to offer his head to the Goddess Kali .cuts off his head at the sacrificial platform. His wife and friend wait for at a distant place beyond the temple premises. The wife feels alarmed that her husband has not returned. She is totally unaware of her husband’s vow. But his friend, who just recollecting his friend’s vow, rushes to the reach the temple to dissuade his friend from performing the sacrifice.
In the earlier productions I had seen, the temple, the terrifying Kali idol, the hero cutting off his own head , with blood oozing all over were all visually shown. To me it seemed that it was a clever representation but it didn’t move me much.
But in Dubey’ s theatre, he did not show the temple, or the fearsome Kali idol but he just shows the friend running to the wings in great agony and apprehension. The heroine stands rooted to the ground not knowing what is happening. Time stands still. A few seconds later, the friend giving a full-throated scream almost sounding like a wild beast throws himself at three quarters of the stage from the wings uttering the name of the hero. It shook the audience all over. This action conveyed what had happened at the temple.
The friend’s body language and his inhuman cry were more eloquent than what technology could have possibly achieved to create a sense of awe.