An Ode to History

In a tribute to late playwright Girish Karnad, eight young theatre directors join forces to direct his acclaimed play, Hayavadana

Eight young directors, over 50 actors and one landmark play — it’s an unusual but apt tribute to Girish Karnad, as director Atul Kumar’s The Company Theatre will present the master playwright’s Hayavadana. The play is being performed in Mumbai today and its presentation comes without precedents.

After Karnad’s passing last month, Kumar felt a deep sense of loss. “He had been an inspiring figure, always encouraging younger actors and directors to take up his plays and reinterpret them, experiment with them. That’s what we have attempted to do,” says Kumar. The play will be performed at Veda Factory in Mumbai’s Andheri at 5pm and 8pm.

The play has been divided into eight parts of 10 minutes each. Each director has been allotted one segment and he or she has the freedom to interpret the play in their own way. Ana Ador, one of the eight directors brought on board by Kumar, for instance, is setting her segment in Kolkata of the ’80s. “My segment features in the first half of the play, with all three key characters in the scene. The original is set several centuries ago but mine dates back to the ’80s, which allows for a certain kind of setting and music that bring out the emotions of love and jealousy,” she adds.

Roshan Shetty, on the other hand, has set his segment in the present times. “It’s a play within a play. So we show a cast that is preparing to perform Hayavadana,” he says, adding that the segments were allotted by a draw of lots.

What is unique about this performance of Hayavadana is also its biggest challenge. “It may be a little hard to process in the beginning… each director is also acting in the play, being led by another director in segments,” says Ador. “The segments need to connect but the best part is the format, which itself allows us to make mistakes,” she adds.

According to Kumar, the play was chosen by the directors. They met for readings of several works by Karnad and zeroed in on Hayavadana. Shetty explains that the strength of the play lies in the fact that it’s relevant today even though it was published in the ’70s. “It talks of casteism, of a woman’s physical needs and our deep desire to perfect ourselves, be complete. Ironically, while all the characters in the play struggle to do that, the only one that achieves it is Hayavadana, the horse,” says Shetty.

While Kumar has nudged them in direction, the young directors, including Mallika Singh, Tushar Dalvi, Lyra Dutt, Divyesh Vijaykar, Rishabh Sood and Niketan Sharma, have independently worked on their segments. Kumar says that the idea was to get young theatre people to read, understand and interpret Karnad’s works. “Many of them would not have engaged with his plays this intimately if they were not made part of the production,” he says. “With a complex format, we may go wrong but we had to try… Girish saab would have encouraged us to experiment. And there can be any number of reasons to do this but the most important one is that theatrewallahs come together and remember the great man that was Karnad,” says Kumar.

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