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Simplicity's challenge

Gandhi, the ballet by the Sachin Shanker Troupe, not just presented the Mahatma's public persona, but also his relationship with Kasturba

Photo: K. Murali Kumar

POIGNANT A nice interplay of shadow and light is used to highlight Gandhi as Kasturba breathes her last in his arms

Simplicity was the core ideal of Mahatma Gandhi's life. Portraying it in a ballet is a challenge because, to put it simply, you can't have Gandhi dancing on stage. So, when late ballet maestro Sachin Shanker thought of doing "a big performance", he found no subject tougher than Gandhi. Thus was born the ballet, Gandhi.

Bangaloreans got to see Gandhi for the first time, when it was organised by the Sarvodaya International Trust at the Chowdiah Memorial Hall to mark Gandhi Jayanthi. The show in Bangalore, the 25th in India, was significant for more than one reason because it was the first time the ballet was being performed after Sachin Shanker's death and also his son Shashank was playing the role of Gandhi for the first time. In two acts it traces the life of Gandhi right from his time as a barrister in South Africa to his death in 1948. Shashank has written the script and Sachin Shanker's wife Kumudini Shanker is the producer. The choreography was Sachin Shanker's work.

The making

Before the show, Ms. Shanker threw some light on the preparation that went into it. "We had earlier done a ballet on Shivaji. But Gandhi was more difficult because his life is so well documented. We researched at the Gandhi Peace Foundation in Mumbai for the script. The biggest challenge was that Gandhi can't dance. So, the others around him had to dance. And we had to have the best of everything to set a standard. For that we hired the best costumes, the best composer and the best artistes. After our first performance at Kolkata, the Birlas who had sponsored the show said my husband almost looked like the real Gandhi."

The first act began with Mother India bound by the strings of greed and hunger for power, in a contemporary set up. It then moved on to trace the life of Gandhi in South Africa. The turning point in Gandhi's life was the incident at the Pietermaritzburg Railway Station where he was thrown out of the first class carriage because of his dark skin. This is the scene where the troupe's efforts at keeping it simple are plainly visible. A background score and line of plastic chairs represent the train, while Gandhi is attired in a plain black suit. The costumes and props are kept to the bare minimum, with the emphasis being Gandhi's emotions.

The first act also highlights Gandhi's efforts to free Indians in South Africa from bonded labour, and him discovering the Bhagavadgita and embracing self-service and brahmacharya. The second act begins with Gandhi's arrival at Bombay and the trauma of Jallianwalabagh. It then goes on trace Gandhi's political life till Independence, which includes major landmarks in Indian history like the Dandi march, the quit India movement and finally the trauma of partition. Alongside these events, the emotional side of Gandhi that not many of us have been privy to is seen when his wife Kasturba passes away. A nice interplay of shadow and light is used to highlight Gandhi as Kasturba breathes her last in his arms.

Though the producers claim to reveal the other side of Gandhi, other than Kasturba's death, they have stuck to a rather factual representation. Avoiding any controversy seems to be the idea and it is strange that Jawaharlal Nehru doesn't feature at all even though there is scene that shows a parley between Gandhi and Jinnah.

The omission of Nehru leaves the ballet rather incomplete because the ideological differences between Nehru and Gandhi played a major part in shaping India's destiny.

But as far as the production goes Gandhi deserves a ten on ten. The make up by Bhanu Athaiya manages to make a realistic but a rather well-nourished Gandhi out of Shashank.

The choreography is master class. It is not a synchronised ballet but one that manages to capture the characters in real.

ANAND SANKAR

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