Thursday, January 12, 2006

A rich veneer of subversion

Subaltern soliloquy Utpal Banerjee The Pioneer July 09, 2005
In Shakespeare's Othello, the Moor of Venice fell for and married Desdemona, but is the Moor's conversion to Christianity not a hidden agenda in the turmoil-ridden manoeuvres in the play? Our own epic poet Kalidasa may not be the Indian syllabus-makers' choice, yet his prototype of a jilted and discarded woman who finally walks out on her abhorrent lover-king in Abhijnanam Shakuntalam, is a familiar one. Parnab Mukherjee, who presented Kalidasa's Kumarsambhava, at the India International Centre besides carrying the burden of soliloquy on his sturdy shoulders, passionately believes that both Kalidasa and Shakespeare, in their own times, have left a rich veneer of subversion in their otherwise main text - raising questions on ethics, morality, sexuality, body and body-politics.
Using the superbly lyrical transcreation by Rishi Aurobindo, as well as the part rendering by Ritwik Ghatak, he keeps the story-line fairly linear, namely, the disturbances created by demons like Tarakasura; Kamadeva's efforts to tempt Shiva to fall in love with Parvati resulting in fiasco; Parvati's resolve to stick it out alone; Shiva's disguised encounter with Parvati culminating in the marriage; the much-awaited birth of Kumara; the latter's heroism as he takes on the demons; and annihilation of the evil forces after a marathon battle. "I feel Kalidasa has a powerful undertone of protest in his writings.
I consider him great for the extraordinary lyricism of his verses, but beyond that sublimity lies a very strong matrix of protest literature, which is relatively unexplored. I'm working on my fellowship on 'Alternative Approaches to Theatre and Media'. This brought me close to 'café theatre' in Kolkata and Darjeeling. I'm particularly connected with the jute-mill lockouts on the Hoogly river-stretch and the closed tea gardens in the Doors, apart from conducting programmes in Delhi and Benaras."
Mukherjee adds, "My production combines installation techniques, Purulia Chhau (in the battle sequences), hand shadowgraphs, multi-media exploration and interplay of modern symbols to create a memory scape. I've used video clippings of 9\11, I think the event shares striking similarities with the war among gods and demons." According to this young director, Kumarasambhava upholds two modern traits. Firstly, Shiva decides to marry when he wants to. This conveys male-domination. Second, only he can endorse the war and allow Kumara to fight. This is not different from dynastic pattern, as evident in Bush, Senior and Bush, Junior! Looking at Kalidasa's subaltern theatre, I was inspired by Badal Sircar's 'Third Theatre. I, too, am using spaces which are non-proscenium but, unlike Badalda, my performance is spread out."

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