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Obsession with the gods

The just-concluded Bharat Rang Mahotsav featured some nice plays dealing with the common man, his beliefs and obsessions. Read on with DIWAN SINGH BAJELI to know more.



A scene from "Burhdeva".

UTTARAKHAND IS rich in traditional theatre forms and folk ballads. Fascinated by these forms, contemporary theatre practitioners of this hill State are engaged in experimenting with these forms to create new idiom to retain the vigour of the original form and at the same time comment on man who is the victim of social and political oppression. Two productions of this kind were featured at the NSD's Rang Mahotsav.

Directed by Prem Mohan Dhobhal, Burhdeva was presented by Vidhyadhar's Sricala, Srinagar, Uttarakhand. Written by D.R. Purohit, a dedicated researcher in the field of folk theatre of Uttarakhand and a senior fellow of Sangeet Natak Akademi, Delhi, the play is the result of his discovery of the mask theatre of Garhwal. The style of the production is inspired by the traditional form of Burhdeva - a blend of rituals and social drama.

The plight of the common man in the hills occupies the central space. After the gods fail in improving the lot of the oppressed, Burhdeva invites the politicians in power, including the Prime Minister. But there is no end to the common man's suffering.

The interaction between Burhdeva and other characters is alternated by the pageant of gods who arrive on the scene with all divine regalia, which makes the production visually rich. Music by Rakesh Bhatt which is rendered by an impressive chorus is one of the highlights of the production which by turn is tender, comic, ironic and provocative.

The director has handled his large cast aptly. Being a graduate of Arts and Crafts College, Lucknow, he has recast masks on the basis of traditional ones. These masks are used to reinforce the psychological and emotional world of the characters. The masks used by the performer of the character of Lata - the common man - and his wife Lati stand out for their expressive power. Prem Mohan Dobhal as Burhdeva establishes a lively rapport with the audience.

Bhana-Gangnath

Jaagar is a ritualistic dance form intimately connected with the worship of local deity or ghost worship in Kumaon and Garhwal. Bhana-Gangnath in Jaagar style is presented by the Parvatiya Kala Kendra at the festival. Written by the late B. L. Shah, it depicts the tragic love story of Bhana, a widow of high caste, and Gangnath, a Prince from Nepal. They defy the moral code of a feudal society.

This is a shocking tale of humanity's inhumanity. The killers of the lovers and their infant become obsessed with the guilt after committing the heinous crime. To expiate their guilt, the murderers start worshipping Bhana, Gangnath and the infant. Now these `sinners' are elevated to the status of god considered powerful enough to ward off evil and to bring peace and prosperity to the community. The music score is by the late Mohan Upreti, the pioneer of the Indian theatre music. He has retained the original tunes for the chorus while the narrative part is sung in a music drawn from various sources of North Indian musical styles. Music is indeed the soul of this opera. Prem Matiyani, the recipient of the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award, who has directed the play, displays his strong sense of composing dramatically tense scenes, imparting to the production an uninterrupted rhythmic flow. Himanshu Joshi as Gangnath brilliantly displays his talent as an actor-singer of the opera stage. Gopal Singh as Diwan projects the brute face of feudal social order. In the role of Bhana, Chandra Bisht creates a powerful portrait of a socially disgraced woman, revealing the fury of her revenge with remarkable intensity.

Begum aur Baagi

From Lucknow NIPA Rangmandli brought "The Queen and the Rebels" by Ugo Betti (1892-1953) in the late J. N. Kaushal's Hindustani translation as `Begum Aur Baagi' to the Mahotsav. An Italian playwright, Betti was the successor of Luigi Pirandello who is well known in India. Betti's works are little known in India. Only his "Begum Aur Baagi" was seen on the Delhi stage a decade ago.

The NIPA's production is directed by Surya Mohan Kulshreshtha, one of the eminent theatre personalities of Uttar Pradesh. Though he has aptly designed his production, the opening sequences remain flat. The dialogue spoken by performers tends to limit itself to the verbal and the expression and the movements appear to be affected. But in the second half the pace acquires momentum.

"The Queen and the Rebels" is the last play of Betti which reveals the dignity of human soul in the hour of crisis. There are two main characters - Aayesha, a prostitute and Begum in the guise of a peasant. The rebels are searching for the Begum to punish her for her crimes against the masses.

Mridula Bharadwaj as Begum is weak and terrified who cringes before Aayesha for the safety of her life. Jai Shanker Pandey in the role of Raheem, an opportunist, coward and betrayer, gives an impressive performance. Anamika's Aayesha takes her assumed role of the queen seriously forgetting her earlier sordid life of a prostitute and rises to nobility in the hour of agony. Mistaken for the Queen, her Aayesha accepts martyrdom with dignity.

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