A face/off set in the world of mythology and folklore

By Zafar Anjum

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Conceptualised by: Monisha Charan and Dr Siri Rama
Executive producer & Director: Monisha Charan
Artistic director and choreographer: Dr Siri Rama

 

Girish Karnad’s play Hayavadana is considered one of the landmark works in the annals of Indian theatre. The play brings about the interplay of questions of love, identity and sexuality through a panoply of characters set in a world of mythology and folklore.

Recently, Izaara Productions brought this famous play alive on stage in Singapore under the skilful direction of Monisha Charan.

Hayavadana
The play’s director Monisha Charan (right) with the High Commissioner of India in Singapore, Mr. Jawed Ashraf (Centre) and Mr. Abhay Charan (left).

The play began with a brief narration on the play’s antecedents: one of the influences behind the play was Thomas Mann’s The Transposed Heads, which in turn was borrowed from a Kathasaritasagara story. In keeping with the spirit of the play, Monisha Charan paid a rich tribute to the myths and legends of the Hindu religion.

The plot revolves around two parallel stories, both involving questions of love and identity (the heart and the head). In the main track, a well-built kshatriya, Kapila (Avtar Bhullar), finds that his best friend Devadatta (Justin Lee) has madly fallen in love with Padmini (Dr. Siri Rama). Although Kapila harbours an attraction for Padmini, his love and loyalty stands above all; he arranges the match for Devadatta and Padmini and they get married.

The director has made sure that the two actors present a contrast in their physicality and demeanour: Kapila is a Kshatriya with a muscular and manly appearance; Devadatta is a learned Brahmin and poet with a weak physique. The playwright cleverly poses the question to the audience: what if their physicalities are switched? What if the weak Brahmin poet becomes muscular and the sinewy warrior takes the body of the weak poet? Are they happy in their new avatars? What happens to Padmini’s love in that case?

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Subtly, the play comments on the rigidity of the caste system which imposes a hierarchy on people. Along with the main track, the sub-plot features the Hayavadana (the horse-man), played with gusto by De Zhong Chia, who is unhappy because he feels incomplete with the face of a horse and the body of a man; yet, he is the object of affection of a beautiful lady, played by Renita Kapoor. I wish this track had more layers to it, as we find in the main track.

Reshaping Art

(Pages 4-9)

Art is not an accident; it does not happen by mistake. It is a deliberate, conscious act of creating an art object; it is a willed human endeavour. Art does not depend on a general acceptance of attractiveness. In fact, subjective notions of beauty are entirely secondary to the act of art creation.

Art probably began from humankind’s need to map or record life as a survival strategy. Much like animals, early humans also discovered that they could use their limbs and voices to interact with their surroundings and make markings and sounds. But soon these tools became something more than record books or sonic appeals. Somehow the human mind discovered within itself the capacity to extract essence from life and reimagine, recreate and curate that spirit in the form of shape, sound, colour and space. What was vital was that the nub of life was preserved in art creation. The real world around and the experiences felt within provided the inspiration. From the never-ending flurry of images, sounds and events, some individuals began distilling moments, movements, tonal combinations and shifts in light and space. What were they distilling: literal shapes, colour and sound? They were securing within art the emotionality of nature through the soliloquy of a creative meditation.

These processes, for want of a better word, had a deep impact on the emotional nature of humans. From this arose imagination and, from its overflow, the unbridled desire to create things that allowed us to be in touch with that spirit. Imagining possibilities from all that existed and beyond what they saw, heard and felt, they created objects of art. Playing with colours, space, shape, materials, tones and rhythms, humankind entered an entirely new area of emotional enquiry. Art was mystical, its conjuring evoked an untapped experience, almost a magic trick. I say ‘almost’ because the intention of this magic was not to trick someone into believing but to draw them into experiencing. At times, the impact of such art could become more powerful than the ‘original’ inspiration from the real world. Art does not copy life; it encapsulates the essence of life.