The room was dark, cold and quiet. A man wearing a lungi and draped in a white and golden shalya, sat in the corner of the stage reciting shlokas with a yellow spot light upon him. Not long after reciting the shlokas, the spotlight shifts to the translucent curtains at the rear end of the stage where the audience saw the story of Bhishma come alive through carefully crafted puppets.
On the sunny afternoon of 20th August, Rangashankara staged The Mahabharata (which was scheduled only for two days), presented by The Katkatha Puppets Arts Trust, directed by Anurupa Roy and scripted by Anamika Mishra.
The narrative of the play was non-conventional. Through the use of inflated dolls in costumes, colourful puppets, narrators in decorative masks and a man reciting shlokas, the audience was transported to the fantasy world of the Mahabharata. The narrators used a mix of colloquial Hindi and English saying things like “after that, Pandu ne Madhvi ke saath sex kiya”. Some say that this made a difference. “I haven’t seen many plays but they were talking just like how we talk in our daily lives. When I read the name of the play, I thought it’ll be in pure Hindi but I was pleasantly surprised”, says Sunidhi R. a member of the audience.
What stood out was the way the mood shifted when Shakuni made his appearance on stage. The atmosphere grew grim and eerie.
Hues of dark pink illuminated the stage as Shakuni woke up and an ominous voice said –“The hunger always lies in wait. Its ferocious teeth in the inside, on the outside; everywhere. What is this place where I eat of myself? I wait for the right side of the dice to roll out. I wait for Bhishma and his kin to feast on each other. I wait, famished for this meal.” And he rolls the dice. This Shakuni was thin with bony hands. With the sinister mask and hunched posture, no one could mistake him for a good egg.
Short and concise, the script managed to captivate the audience through stories that aren’t usually spoken of; like the story of Shakuni who wanted to kill the Kauravas. Instances like these made it difficult for some to understand. Sandhya Rajkumar, another member of the audience said, “I know the story of Mahabharata, but briefly. There were so many things that I came to know today that I didn’t know and many things that I couldn’t understand because I didn’t know the story. It was a little hard to keep up”.
I left the theatre feeling nostalgic. I had finally seen the stories that ajji used to tell me every night before going to bed. The faceless enemy that I was oblivious to as a child, now stood before me in various forms within each character of the play. This enemy didn’t differentiate between a friend and a foe. The awakening of whom, could only bring war.