Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Prasd Rao Mattu- Mahila Bharata - Directed by Dr. Shripada Bhat

Prasad Rao Mattu
Mahilabharata- a relook at the stereotypical portrayal of woman as a cradler, lullaby singer,(who is also ever present on stage in this play too, but on the backstage) strikes the emotional chords even as the "rebels" and "victims" of motherhood challenge the given identities. As a result bahumukhi identity is previleged! Thottilu and lullaby become a strategy of inclusive politics pleading for acceptance of all kinds of women experience and existence. It also represents the fantasy of a peaceful life for all- fantasy ,I repeat, for the too melodious and too beautiful music and tune that accompany the dim lit scene, For those who donot accept these complex identities at least the fear of curse,a strong visual motive in the structure of the play, may work!
Mahilabharatha is truly a subversive reading of legends and myths. The performance subverts folk traditions like yakshagana and puppetry. Mother plays the role of bhagavatha and converses with the characters from mahabharatha! And more importantly being a woman she empathises with them!( unlike the proud male bhagavatha) This warmth of the mother to all children may also lead to a misinterpretation of the play as a 'celebration of motherhood' unless attention is paid to the mysterious and eerie(!) Rohini whom mother admires. Rohini is a challenge, she is male-like, but does not bear with any thing that subdues its spirit for others-be it lotus that follows the sun or the bending crops waiting for the harvester. She challenges marriage and child bearing. Her movements are of the free wind. Unseen but felt by the children. Mother has felt the rebel in Rohini, who can freely enter mother's narration of kunthi's story to the daugter. Rohini transcends time, she is the part of kunthi too. She does not curse but she has the guiding light in her hand, shows the path to accept one's woman's self. To kunthi- to accept that her motherhood has been only a victim of throne- of power.
The on stage positions and movements of Rohini is an index of the importance given to her, she is the only person who moves all over the stage. It belongs to her, unlike the mother whose movements are curtailed between steps and the symbolic images of the disintifrating main entrance of the house. Rohini moves in and out, crosses the threshold wilfully, sits on the threshold, sleeps at the door way. She is the free consciousness of womanhood. Rohini is the anti theses of motherhood but not vegeant like Amba or Draupadi.
There are two intense moments of cry for vengeance one by amba and the other by draupadi. Between these two moments is the enactment of the "curse" by the daughter, who in fact imitates the ancestral woman of the family who cursed all the men for burning her alive out of their sheer suspicion of immodesty - an episode which occurs in the fierst scene of the play. So there are four intertwining episodes in which women seeking revenge against the atrocities of men. These are the four intensly burning moments underlined by the auditory images of burning fire. But each of them is different in its dramatic effect and its perspective on woman.
The first scene begins with the narration by the cradler, who speaks about the mother who has gone to permanent sleep. The son soeaks about his mother and her ability to tell tales. In his memory mother 'wakes up' and starts narrating stories. Her anxiety is about the son, for her family is 'cursed one', by a woman who was burnt alive. Her fear and suffering are dramatised as the girl from her memory reincarnates and the scene of burning is re enacted. The brothers kill her suspecting her chastity, while all the time she was only playing with the thorny plants in the backyard. Her reaction to the toture is two fold. First she mocks at their doubts and fears about her. Then she curses them. The sons have a cursed future forever because of the first curse, feels the mother. The drunkard who rushes on the stage os but a manifestation of the curse, he too has lost his wife to someone else. The evil deed feeds upon the male children of the family. This scene at once sets the mood and orientation of the play.
The past curse in the family legend gains the present space, and gives it contemporary relevace. It opens up a sequence of curses from the puranas and the present as well.
Mother's telling of mahabharatha stories is significant from this angle. She selects the stories of victims of rejection (Amba) humiliation (Draupadi) obligaton of power and progeny ( Satyavati) and desire for power for children (Kunti) motherhood of satyavati and kunti are presented as week. They never occupy stage centre, and even when kuntibtries once, karna's questions deconstruct her motherhood.
The curse of Amba in mother's narration is visualised and it sets the thinking part of the play in motion. The son also plays the role of the brother who burns his sister and also of bhishma.Therefore he is the masculine principle upholding Honour and Power. He is the cursed one according to the mother. The son is nonchalant about it.
But the daughter's experience is different. She can feel the similarity between Amba and the legendary ancestral girl of the household. Further, in a most dramatic moment she identifies herself with the cursing duo Amba and the Girl. The curse from the legend, from the epic and from the present come together with great intensity as the daughter at the centrestage( earlier occupied by Amba) and the girl from the legend at the backstage right, enact the tragedy of girls burnt to protect the honour of the house. It is an intense dramatic moment as reverberations of honour killing of the present, the mythical injustice to Amba and the atrocity on women from time immemorial are condensed in to one dramatic action on the stage. The sweep of the moment is so breathless that when the daughter calms down to say she was only joking, neither her mother nor her brother nor the audience find it easy. The audience start identifying modern womanhood in the daugter, as she questons the euphimistic narratives about the women from the puranas- mocks at the niyoga concept but celebrates the livliness in them.
Amba challenges the gods as well. Draupadi dominates kunti for she needs to fulfil her oath. Youthful they are, amba and draupadi donot take heed of the warnings by motherly sathyavati or kunti. So are bhishma and Karna. In this respect they represent the son and the daugher to whom mother narrates select rebellious incidents from mahabharatha.
Mother chooses the stories of rebel women at the behest of the daughter. She is the narrative centre. A good story teller she is, her motherly compassion is interpersed through out in the form of lullabies. But her stories can give sleepless nights to many Men!

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