Two great traditions merge at 14th century fort (Theatre Review)

October 18th, 2011 - 3:40 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Oct 18 (IANS) An iridescent orange glow casts eerie shadows on the 14th century ruins of Ferozeshah Kotla fort… Two armoured guards patrol the ramparts as the sound of battle rages in the distance.

An 600-plus audience seated under a starry canopy of the late evening sky watches a drama unfold on the ramparts - history meeting reality in director Bhanu Bharti’s production of “Andha Yug”, the 1954 classical verse play by Dharamvir Bharti.

The retelling of the last five acts of Mahabharata in the context of the contemporary reality of a war-torn world found an echo amid Delhi Sultanate era ruins as two great heritages - a Hindu epic and the artistic vision of Ferozeshah Tughlaq in 1360 in the form of the fort - merged.

The eight-day production from Oct 15-23 was a sellout on Day 1.

The play, a milestone in Indian literature, was first staged at the same venue by Ebrahim Alkazi in 1963 for an audience which included then prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru.

It begins on the 18th and the last day of the Mahabharata War, which left a mountain of corpses on the Kurukshetra battlefield.

The blind king Dhritarashtra, the head of the Kaurava clan, his blindfolded wife Gandhari, his minister Vidur and the coachman Sanjay, who brings news of the war to the palace, sink into a spiral of darkness as news of the devastation pours in.

Bedraggled contingents of wounded soldiers pour in to Hastinapur to tell Dhritarashtra who is impeded by his lack of vision - both of the eye and mind - from seeing suffering and death.

But no one is willing to admit that the war has been unleashed on humanity by injustice, power-mongering and greed - choices that the old king made for their bloodline.

Lord Krishna - a voiceover by Om Puri - remains central to the dilemma.

The battle had ended when Ashwatthama, son of preceptor Dronacharya, flings the Brahmastra on mankind. Its power is fated to destroy the mortal race, dry up the seas, wither vegetation and blot out the sun, bringing down darkness on earth.

Ved Vyasa, the epic’s creator, warns Ashwatthama, but an insane Ashwatthama is blinded by the lust for revenge. He becomes a beast.

It is akin to Hiroshima. And Vyasa is the ambitious creator who wilts under the burden of his own monsters.

The original play ends with Lord Krishna’s death - but Bharti closes it with Gandhari’s curse for the the deity’s downfall.

“You have failed to stop the war,” she accuses.

The play has been directed by various directors in the last 40 years, both in the country and abroad. But the one most recall is one directed by Satyadev Dubey with Amrish Puri and Naseeruddin Shah at the Kamani theatre here in 1989.

Bhanu Bharti chose the play because “it was a modern classic”.

“It carries new meaning for own times. We are living in a mad world of self-seekers and loss of ethical values,” Bharti told IANS.

Bharti said he “had an idea” that Alkazi had staged the play there.

“I did see the play 50 years ago, but we have travelled a long road since then - a lot of water has flown down the Yamuna,” he said.

“I had a much bigger space. Alkazi had a wall and a slice of the foreground,” noted Bharti, who said “he had earlier staged open air plays on tree-tops and in the middle of the audience”.

But ironically the “wide open space” proved to be a constraint for the production, which lost much because of lack of sound, grandeur, speed and zest, which are the prime ingredients of an open air opera-style Indian ensemble play.

Rooted in folk, they see action, vigorous body language and stronger voice pitches making up for the absence of technical frills.

Call it the television bug or the usual pace of life, the production could have picked up more speed to utilise the historic space any director would die for.

“Andha Yug” was presented by Sahitya Kala Parishad and Delhi’s art and culture department.

(Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at madhu.c@ians.in)

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