This play is in the form of Talamaddale. As explained in the beginning of the play, this is a form of yakshagana performed in the monsoon season, which has no dance or costumes involved and instead focusses on the extempore speech/dialogue facet of Yakshagana. Many, as I, don’t/didn’t know that Yakshagana is an extempore form of performance where actors improvise on dialogue, scenes in close association with the ‘Bhagavatar’ (the singer/sutradhar). And also didn’t know the existence of talamaddale as a form. It was a little disappointing in the beginning to see no costumes or movement on stage but the dialogue soon became so engaging that the dance form was almost forgotten. So excellent were the themes/interpretations/adaptations of dialogue.
The setting of the play is almost bare, except for the colourful costumes/ornaments of Yakshagana, used in and around the seating areas. The actors or in this case the orators, come in line, pay their respects to all the musicians, the bhagavatar and take their seats. Then, the talk begins.
The sequence is taken out of the Mahabharatha, as a lot of yakshagana themes are, 2 out of 3 I have watched are about it. The one that was not was based on the story of Brahma and Sharade. On one hand they have all been about the questions and dilemmas inherent in the text, on the other they have been about the eternal questions that the whole of mankind is engaged in. For example, Krishna Sandhana was largely about politics, politics of war, morality, and a common mans reactions to all those things, while the earlier one I watched on Brahma and Sharada were mainly issues of morality. In a way this kind of oratorial dialogue puts to mind scenes imagined from the times of Greeks/Plato, where dramas were held on morality, philosophy in the form of plays. On an aside note, the questions strangely enough seemed to have remained unchanged.
Most of the performers were either professors or doctors of philosophy, to me this explained the extremely critical discussion/reflection that was held on the ins and outs of the sequence/mahabharatha itself. They were also good orators, this then explained the wit, and the humour that they brought into the sequence. One of the things they also did was to equate a lot of situations faced in the sequence that they presented with our current political scenario. There was mention of corruption, a mention of Anna Hazare, of power hungry politicians so on and so forth.
Another thing that struck me was that, it seemed to be a critical discussion of Mahabharatha itself, with arguments, motives, introspection and political directions taken in the Mahabharatha. As such it was so much more entertaining than other forms of such academic thesis tend to be. And more lively.
The music was a treat. I am completely biased towards the sounds of Yakshagana. They are filled with such vigour, such colossal urgency, and littered with such lovely shouts (more so when there is dancing and costumes) to make them completely perfect for me. Or maybe because I was born with these sounds inside me? I am from South Canara or close by. I know these sounds. As a six year old I have witnessed Bhoota Kola (To digress a little, also the sacrifice of a hen/Rooster, and the image of a headless animal running around with blood spurting from its neck is an image that doesn’t easily go away from one’s mind). I have also once had, what to me now sounds like a dream opportunity, of having been to one of those Yakshagana performances which happens through many nights in a field, with temporary stage and many food vendors. So the sounds, are familiar. The associations are deep.
Be that as it may, this performance was an extremely good one, the concept a beauty, the sounds a treat, the questions priceless (and maybe eventually unanswerable, after all they have been asked over centuries with no apparent success) and the initiative an excellent, excellent one.
Note: The play was a part of a group of plays performed at RangaS in their annual Theatre Festival of 2011. The theme of the festival this year is socio-political plays. Some of the earlier themes have been of Comedy, the Sangeet-Natak tradition, and folk-classical forms (this one had plays from Assam based on Sattriya, and Kudiyattam from Kerala, another Yakshagana piece from Mangalore, etc)