Chennai-based theatre group Crea-Shakthi along with Bangalore-based Jagriti Theatre will present the legendary play, Yayati, written by Girish Karnad. Ahead of the performance, the play’s director, who is also the founder of Jagriti Theatre, Arundhati Raja talks about the play.
“In this play, King Yayati’s story from the Mahabharata becomes a rollercoaster ride of events, sparked off by one sexual encounter. When it was written (in 1960), strong women characters were not acceptable in traditional Indian theatre and this play has four of them. They assert their rights alongside a son who wishes to rebel against the path set out for him. The story also has a father who is willing to sacrifice his son’s youth in his quest for immortality. Totally, there are six strong characters who fight for their own rights,” says Arundhati.
Set against a background of lust, jealousy and social prejudice, Arundhati has made sure that the soul of the story hasn’t been lost in the process of adaptation from page to stage. “If I choose a play to direct then, I do so for the way in which the playwright has written it. I never make changes to it. A good play does not need to be ‘adapted’ for an audience. In this play, dramatic conflict arises from the quest for power and all that leads to achieving that quest. In our present time of gender inequality, social and religious intolerance, this play remains relevant in all its aspects,” she remarks.
Although the play is set in ancient India, the director’s goal was to take a contemporary approach to the staging of the play. “We have concentrated on a faster pace and naturalistic dialogue rendition to evoke the richness of that era. The difficulty was in using the rich language used by the playwright in a natural manner. Entries and exits were to be maintained in a traditional form yet allowing the emotions within a scene to lead body language and movement rather than a declamation of lines,” the director explains.
Talking about the transition of the theatre scene in the country, she observes, “There is a tendency now for most theatre performances to be devised and often not work with a script, but to use movement and soundscapes instead. I believe that just as there are different dance and music genres that survive successfully side by side, so can the various theatre forms — devised, scripted, mainstream — whatever the label may be,” sums up the celebrated theatre director.