Why Are Modern Renditions Of Folklore Ruling META?
Contemporary retellings of folklore show no signs of losing popularity, as seen at this year’s lineup at the theatre awards
Indian mythology is rich, vast and more than anything, it is engaging. It will always be around to provide fodder for stories. It is often said that content is the product of recycling and reinventing. The current lineup of plays short-listed for the Mahindra Excellence In Theatre Awards (META), confirms it; close to half of the productions are reinterpretations to suit a contemporary stage.
Take Our Theatre’s Bhima for instance, which explores a present-day Bhima’s existential crisis. Or Niloufer Sagar’s Elephant in the Room, a solo coming-of-age play, where a boy with an elephant’s head learns how to come to terms with his fate. Lokadharmi’s Kaali Nadakam speaks of a village and its cursed tryst with the ritual of the same name. The Katkatha Puppet Arts Trust contributes with Mahabharata, which explores the complex minds of 15 characters from Vyasa’s text. The beauty of this rendition lies in its interaction between puppets and humans. No one dare do a direct, scene-to-scene act; the audience simply won’t have it. One would rather watch the Ramlila enacted by folk performers who are masters of their craft.
Bhima’s director Anitha Santhanam affirms, “Myths resonate inside us, and provide access to deep currents in the psyche that lie dormant as we go about the daily grind. Just look at how sport is packaged as myth. There’s often rousing music and a cosmic voiceover as if battle lines are being drawn.” Music, dance and dramatic lighting play a very important part in telling the tale, but how does one justify the use of these in the present setting? “It is a tricky balance and a difficult space to negotiate. I feel the contrast in the forms used in Bhima help us juxtapose the heroic and the day-to-day, the grand passion and the dutiful compromise, which are thematically very important. The articulation of Koodiattam is at the heart of the play” explains Santhanam.
Outside of the META lineup, there is Yatri’s Raavan Leela, popular for its humorous take on a theatre group dealing with Murphy’s Law right before a performance. And then there’s Adishakti, who have been doing this for a long time — productions like Nidravathvam, The Tenth Head or Ganapati have their roots in the epics. When asked to pick a recent favourite, Santhanam chose a dance-theatre performance which she saw at the Attakalari Biennale. Choreographed by Nicole Selier, it referenced the Radha-Krishna myth.
And then there are directors like Yuki Ellias who are committed to movement and motion in theatre, but steer clear of dramatising the texts in such ways. The premise for Elephant In The Room originated from the story of Ganesha, and not least because of the intriguing imagery. “The act of creating a boy from clay, the confrontations between father and son, the beheading and the changing of heads…it’s intense and gripping when you think about it from a theatrical view, it provides a very dramatic plot as well as many deeper philosophical explorations. The original Ganesha tales are an inspiration, but we travelled to another time and place with our protagonist Master Tusk and the many characters he meets along the way. The story exists in a loophole of time within the myths as we know it.”
The short-listed plays will be staged during the META Festival in Delhi from March 4th to 9th
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