Bhanu Bharti's Andha Yug
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FEATURES >> FRIDAY REVIEW >> October 28, 2011
Light on darkness
DIWAN SINGH BAJELI
T heatrical splendour, unprecedented audience response and a highly innovative directorial artistry to project spiritually crippled humanity wandering for enlightenment in the dark age on a vast canvas mark Dharamvir Bharati's “Andha Yug”, presented by Sahitya Kala Parishad (SKP) (at the historic Feroz Shah Kotla this past week. A verse play, the epic narrative captures the dilemma, anguish, cynicism and the dread of a universe falling apart through the characters of the Mahabharata. If the production of this modern classic by E. Alkazi in 1963 at the same venue heralded a new epoch for the Indian theatre, one of his most imaginative students, director Bhanu Bharti, in 2011 imparted a new dimension to “Andha Yug”, bringing to the fore the multi-layered meaning of the play that stirred the audience emotionally and intellectually. The production also heralds a new trend: that more and more people are excited to witness a theatrical show provided it is artistically brilliant reflecting a sensibility rooted in the consciousness of the people. In all, the play has eight shows and SKP had to increase sitting capacity every day to accommodate the ever increasing numbers of the audience, and yet it was not possible for the organisers to accommodate all the theatre-lovers. The SKP and its secretary Shekhar Vaishnavi deserve commendation for organising such an ambitious theatrical event in the Capital, bringing together the best theatrical talent available to create a great production of a masterpiece.
The play captures the tragic events that take place on the last day of the 18-day war between the Kauravas and the Pandavas who want to regain the throne. On the surface, it is fought to establish the reign of truth, upholding human values, justice and righteousness but the war culminates in the decadence of human values and in blurring the boundaries between falsehood and truth. Both the victor and the vanquished wander in a dark abyss, engaged in self-exploration.
Without adding a word of his own and displaying fidelity to the original, the director has restructured his narrative with Sanjay as his protagonist. The play opens with the chorus rendering lyrics about Sanjay as a non-aligned, objective commentator and a craftsman of words. Despite his scepticism he will establish truth in moments of crisis. Then Sanjay paints the dark picture of our disjointed time. The play ends with the monologue of Sanjay followed by the chorus, ending the play on an optimistic note.
Bhanu's ingenuity is reflected in his production design. There are three locales: the palace of the blind king Dhritarashtra, the battlefield at another end and, between these two the ground is earmarked for Sanjay; a broken chariot is placed to symbolise contemporary chaos, cynicism. The whole acting area is spread over about 40 feet against the wall of the fort. On the wall with a height of 15 feet the chorus renders the lyrics and on the same wall near the royal place two sentries, tired and old, guard the palace. All these structures are integrated with the ruined walls, giving the illusion that they are part of the original monument. This device gives vastness to the human tragedy on a global scale. On the same ruined wall more than two dozen performers such as the wounded, defeated, demoralised soldiers are returning to the royal palace with the blind king passing through these soldiers, half dead, touching their wounds, feeling their pain, the shame of defeat and horror. This innovative device accentuates the intensity of the horror of war.
One of the hallmarks of the production is the costume design by Amba Sanyal. The characters from the Mahabharata have period costumes without being gaudy. The members of the chorus are costumed in earth colours with a contemporary ring. The music score by Jaspal Moni is based on Indian classical ragas to accentuate the meaning of the words and comment on the action with reference to the dilemma of the modern man and his pathologically sick social and political milieu. Another remarkable creative collaboration between the director and the light designer is very much in evidence in the way R.K. Dhingra handles the lighting. He is at his talented best to create the illusion of total disaster and catastrophe with the help of light, smoke and sound when Ashwatthama throws into the sky his dreaded Brahmastra to destroy the universe.
The entire production is superbly cast. Stars of Indian theatre are among the talented young theatre and Bollywood actors. Two actors — Om Puri, who lent his voice for Krishna and Nam Dev for Vyasa — immensely enriched the production. Mohan Maharishi as Dhiritarashtra imparts subtle and intricate strokes revealing the shattered soul of a ruler who faces ignominious defeat. Uttara Baokar's Gandhari is torn by wrenching grief over the loss of her 100 sons in the war. She holds Krishna solely responsible for the total destruction of the Kauravas. Gandhari brings to the fore her inner bitterness and venom while cursing Krishna. Krishna accepts her curse with feeling and tenderness, saying, “Mother! Lord or God. I am your son, you are my mother.”Her Gandhari undergoes a complete transformation full of repentance for cursing Krishna. Only a great actress like her can project such contrasting images. Teekam Joshi as Ashwatthama draws a telling image of a warrior. A victim of half truth, he becomes a beast out to destroy the whole universe. He invests in his characterisation vitality and emotional depth. Zakir Hussain as Sanjay, Ravi Khaanwilkar as Vidur, Govind Pandey as Kripacharya, Danish Iqbal as Kritverma, Ravi Jhankal as Vriddh Yachak, Rajesh Sharma as Yuyutsu, Kumud Mishra as Goonga Sainik, Amitabh Srivastava as Prahari 1 and Kuldeep Sareen as Prahari 2 are all applauded by the audience for excellent performances.
NEW DELHI: Don't miss the ruins. This production of Dharamvir Bharati's Andha Yug, based on the Mahabharata, is not another event with a monument as venue, an ancient structure serving as a dramatic backdrop. The broken walls and arches, the gates, the flagstones worn smooth are part of the story. They speak of loss and destruction. Add three spaces for action, dramatic lighting, a stellar cast of characters and a classic play with a message that's as relevant today as it was half a century ago when it was staged here for the first time - Andha Yug is theatre done on an epic scale.
"The entire Ferozeshah Kotla is my setting," says director Bhanu Bharati, "My play starts when you step in from the main gate. We lit up the walls. It brings you into a different time and a different space." The time is the last day of the war in the Mahabharata; as for spaces, there are three - the palace at Hastinapura, a forest scene with caves and vegetation and the green patch of the monument's own ground in between, with a chariot on its side, its broken wheel lying a few feet away.
Bharati's stage sets, designed with some assistance from others, blend into the existing structures. A broken wall, centuries-old, continues into one recently set up; sometimes - with just the right amount of darkness - it's distinguished from the ruins only by the too-neat edges on the steps, the creaks and dull-thuds of feet stepping on wood. "When we go to a monument, it should serve a purpose," says Bharati, "That was my primary concern. Some wanted to put up a wall but I said no. We have a set that's interacting with the ruins."
Characters stay in their own parts of the stage. Dhritarashtra (Mohan Maharishi), Gandhari (Uttara Baokar) and Vidur (Ravi Khaanwilkar) belong to the palace; Kripacharya (Govind Pandey), Yachak (Ravi Jhankal) and Kritavarma (Danish Iqbal) wander in the forest trying to restrain a deranged Ashwathama (Teekam Joshi) bent on revenge.
Sanjay, played by Zakir Hussain, occupies the space in between. "The broken, lost chariot from which the wheel's come off is in Sanjay's space. It's like he finds that the truth he was after has come off its bearings," says Bharati. The war is over but no one's won. "Even Krishna dies like an animal. If you are instrumental in a war, you can't avoid the aftermath of the reaction to that even if you're a god." Krishna, appearing only in a voiceover by Om Puri, is cursed by Gandhari. Barring the chorus, Baokar is the only woman in the cast.
On Friday, the floodlights of Ambedkar Stadium played spoilsport for the first one hour, lighting up parts of the set meant to be shrouded in darkness. Sangeet Natak Akademi awardee R K Dhingra did the lights; Navneet Wadhwa did the sound. The walls of Ferozeshah Kotla, or what's left of them, were lit up too but Bharati redid the lighting; he wanted to "reveal" the ruins.
Bharati restructured the original play slightly, created a prologue and epilogue, shifted some scenes. The play didn't need drastic changes to remain relevant. "We've not learnt our lessons," says Bharati, "We thought Marx would show us the way to a just society, Gandhi died a disillusioned man. All around it's madness. But when it's dark, you aspire for light. I wanted to create that yearning for light."