Challenge, to both mind and body
FASCINATING Maduve Hennu becomes a metaphor for the cruel irony of the human condition and of man's relationship with nature
Dr. H.S.Shivaprakash's latest play Maduve Hennu (The Bride), presented by Aneka at ADA Kalamandira recently, turned out to be a fascinating experience both because of its rich content and the manner in which the director Suresh Angalli visualized it. Though based on a tribal story, like many of his other plays are, Maduve Hennu reveals Dr. Shivaprakash's preoccupation with existential problems, his exploration into the nature of violence and his increasing interest in Buddhism as a means of redemption. The tragic plight of the protagonist and the powerful poetry which communicates it reminds us at once of the great Greek tragedians and Shakespeare. (There are echoes of Macbeth throughout the play.)
The play revolves round a tribal youth, who in his eagerness to earn his bride, ends up killing her. The tribal custom demands that the youth, the son of a tribal chief, should perform a secret ritual before he can marry the girl of his choice. He has to spend 20 days alone in the forest and return on the 21st day with the skull of a sturdy young man whom he has killed. Though his marriage day is predicted to bring great disaster, the young man chooses to go ahead because he loses both the girl and the right to inherit the chieftain's position if he does not marry before the next full moon. After a futile search for his kill on the twenty first day, the desperate youth, blinded by his passion, the dark night and torrential rain, kills the only human being he finds on his way back to the village, without realising that it is his impatient bride who has braved the weather to look for him. When the truth gets known, he is cast out of his community and kills himself. But his agony continues as he wanders through the forest as a ghost seeking redemption and trying to wash the blood off his hands.
The story is narrated by his ghost to a Buddhist nun who takes pity on him. The play opens with the nun being driven to this part of the forest by a bear. A sympathetic listener at first, the nun soon gets drawn into the story as an active participant with the realisation that she is the unfortunate bride. Meditation helps her fight the temptation to become entangled with her past and forgive him. The play ends with the hope of redemption for the young man and for the trees which witness the entire drama and comment on it in the manner of a Greek chorus.
The unique narrative structure used by the playwright enables him to retain the three unities of Greek drama while allowing the action to happen at different spatio-temporal locations and different levels of consciousness. As Suresh Angalli observes in his directorial note: "Unlike most contemporary plays, which present conflict as irremediable, Maduve Hennu takes us through violent conflicts towards redemption and healing." Apart from presenting authentic scenes from the ritualistic, tribal way of life, he employs elements from Japanese No-Theatre and Kabuki to highlight the ritualistic aspect of the play. By substituting the stock character of the Buddhist monk with a nun, the playwright shifts the tone from the masculinist to the feminine.
The music, which resembles Buddhist chants and the stylised, slow, repetitive, circular movements employed throughout the play add to this ritualistic atmosphere. The movement emphasises the cyclical nature of birth and death as well. Characters become archetypes and the drama, a metaphor for the cruel irony of human condition and of man's relationship with nature - his destruction of nature in his attempt to possess it. It is precisely this which makes the play highly contemporary.
An innovative designer, Suresh Angalli packs the play with geometrical designs - straight lines triangles, quadrangles, and circles, which through up multiple suggestions. The design and the materials he uses for his props and sets (something he keeps experimenting with) add to the contemporariness and complexity of the images. The river is represented by a shimmering, serrated sheet of fibre, which, under the red spotlight, turns into a river of blood. The rain consists of a series of vertical rods covered with reflectors which give forth flashes of lightning as they reflect the spotlights. The village is represented by a tiny cluster of huts cut out in fibre and the trees, by dwarfed, plastic plants carried on actors' heads in lighted pots. The bamboo lamps and the tribal costumes added to the exotic beauty.
Another interesting aspect of the production is the way the narration and the enactment of the scenes being narrated are simultaneously presented by using two actors for the same role. The transition from one to the other and the cinematic dissolving of images are worked out well. The bamboo lamps and the tribal costumes add to the exotic beauty of the play.
Though Maduve Hennu is a director's play all the way, some of the actors do leave an impression. Among them are Srujan and Advaith who play the tribal youth, Deepa who plays the Buddhist nun. Usha Bhandari is brilliant in her brief appearance as the old lady who provides the much needed comic relief in the play, rather like the porter in Macbeth. The chorus needs to harmonise better. Some of their movements appear a little awkward and forced. The stage hands moving on their knees appear odd.
But on the whole, Aneka's production of Maduve Hennu is a stimulating experience, full of technical innovations and intellectual challenge.
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Chennai and Tamil Nadu