Janardan's Diaries

Janardan Ghosh, takes us through the making of Girish Karnad’s play Hayavadana , which he directed in 2010. The play which was staged at Padatik Theatre, ran successfully for 56 shows and received much critical acclaim.

Janardan’s Havavadana, was path breaking in so many ways. The use of interdisciplinary art & performance practices, physical theatre techniques, the site specific nature of the production and the deconstruction of the plot, to produce, what was an unique experience for theatre lovers of the Kolkata. There was actually two parallel performances, one of the stage and the other in garage where a storyteller performed an abridged version of the play. More from the man himself.

HAYAVADANA  – A Head or Tale of it……

Hayavadana is a representative work of art by Girish Karnad. Girish is definitely one of the most discussed and honored playwright at the international Showground of contemporary South Asian theatre.  This is one of his most popular and most enacted performance texts, which gave birth to a new hybrid theatre as quoted by Erin b. Mee. The play focuses on linear love lore between two friends and their consort, with an animated disturbing end. Padmini is attracted to Kapil, her husband Devdatt’s friend. In a covetous fit Devdatt beheads himself. Kapil discovers the dead body and struck by guilt cuts off his head. Padmini repairs the recklessness by the divine intervention of Goddess Kali.  She commits a boo-boo, a bizarre blunder. The question is whether she consciously did it or was it an accident?

Through this play Girish addresses the convolution and complexity of identity in two levels. As pointed out by the critics, the most obvious crisis dealt by the playwright is the predicament faced by the man with the horse’s head (Hayavadana) who is a representative icon of the post independent Indian citizen, squashed in  between the British culture and the Indian ethos. The second and the elaborate concern is the crisis of an individual with his head and body.  A strong psychosomatic inquiry into the personality and deliverance of sensitive human beings is attempted in the pretense of a play text. Introduction of talking dolls, use of masks, and the traditional Yakshagana form of art and the symbols in abundance renders a vivacious visual treat in the performing space. It was an opportunity seized by most of the prominent directors to decipher and codify a new language of theatre anchored at the shores of Hayavadana.

For me it was an unusual journey through the text in a Space, namely Buildwell Theatre at Padatik. When I first read the text I did not go sequentially, rather chose to dip into portions at random and prepare illustrations emerging from an apparent understanding of the pieces.  It bequeathed me with a treasure of visual perspectives. From there I prepared a flow chart and a digital presentation for my crew. Then gradually I attempted to work with the team, exclusively with their bodies in the space. Sri Suman Das, a brilliant Body-Grapher, as I would prefer to call him, with extensive learning in Kalaripayattu, Mime and Rope acrobatics, facilitated the critical choreography. All cerebral activities such as text reading and the analysis was withheld. The actors played, gesticulated, moved and explored the animate self of theirs to a crescendo. Body as a susceptible responsive tool was gradually learning to go to a discourse without significant words. I hate to use the word tool to such a sensitive piece of being, the Body. It existed on its own accord. Gradually we started moving into the text and consequently intellectual attempts were made to decode the meaning or rather endow each and every line and dialogue with a significant suggestion.  There emerged the conflict. The body – mind duel.  Actors at times were helplessly struggling to cover it up almost aligned forcefully with the words and expressions and at times were drained, exhausted in fear and frustration of dissymmetry, unorganized body movements in an organized text well translated by the renowned Bengali poet and prose writer, Kabi Sankha Ghosh. The entire effort progressively started to take a meditative mood of understanding the beyond; the theatre that I pine for….. A transcendental leap into the unknown with the calmness of a Sannyasin. All restlessness and discomfort with the text and the body in space was tamed to a pensive contemplative state of balance. ….Just like the- type -of Padmini who moves towards the light, the fire of true Knowledge burning her desire and releasing her of all the anxiety that she had…. With the society which did not allow an upper caste young girl to marry a lower  caste young man Kapil…. A body which denied the rationale of our socio- political culture…. A heart that desired more than what reality could provide.

Padmini is a rebel with all violence sublimated and consumed. She goes the ‘Tantra’ way to liberation. Body and soul gets an equal importance. Desire is not restrained rather let loose to satiate into pure bliss. Death is a consequence that levitates her persona to a wiser Padmini who can decide, instruct, and then carry out her duty as well. I doubt whether Girish had supported Sati or not by culminating the end of Padmini on an inflamed pyre, but my take is on the word Sati and not the ritual Sati.

Sati, the pure Woman.

Moreover Padmini was so vast and profound that I failed to fit her in one actor and soon sheltered in another. I would prefer a plentiful of Actors playing Padmini and each one of them trying to work on just a single trait of her…beauty, wit, passion, compassion, love, violence, grief, intelligence, lust, purity…. They are so self contradictory yet magically interwoven to generate a dream… endless and fearful like the cosmos. Here I have two actors playing Padmini captures the weird nuances of her paranormal being in separate actors broadening the image of the amazing woman….

The Head, not just the shapes that we are generally concerned about in this play, has more to deliver than what we take in for questioning.  How the same head functions differently and drive us crazy… we turn into weirdoes, insane, mad, nutty and…. How we start disbelieving ourselves and place another imaginary head on top of it…. At times a rhino (Rhinoceros, Ionesco) or a Lion(Narashimha, Bhagwat Purana) or a deer( a Bengali play by Indrashis Lahiri, I forgot the name) or a horse to signify the peculiarity… How strangely we carry a different head on our shoulders when we are angry (Devil’s head for Tom in Tom and Jerry Cartoon) or in love (Donkey’s head in Midsummer Night’s Dream, Shakespeare)…. This hyperbolic and fantastic representation of various understandings in our Urban and Traditional mythology has been used by the performers to identify the other in oneself. Devdatt and Kapil’s Heads get swapped but they don’t exchange their entire self…. It is the Devdatt in Kapil and Kapil in Devdatt that surface out of the barter. So the treatment is reflective of the issue concerning the influence of culture and politics and the course of events that reproduce such hybrid beings…. Even the play which is partially western and partially Eastern aligns with the theme.  From Lord Ganesha to the Horse, from God to the Beast all are victims of this oddity. Yet, the Human’s thrash about it the most….

We need to come to a profound understanding of this and therefore the Play ends with the last Photo Puzzle in the out, where a sculptor cum art enthusiast, Ms. Bipasha Chakravorty, with her involvement with the meta-text of the play desirous to create a foray of cut heads with lost bodies signifying the triumph of heads over bodies, is continuously working with heads of different shapes and sizes and kinds….

The heads that we are born with and the heads that we make out of them…..

The set has been designed by Sri Partho Mazumdar, who preferred a Human female’s body as a scenic backdrop to engulf the performing space. This attracted my attention as I found the female body to be a symbol of impersonal nature fettered to the tide of time that represented the stage. And the Actors in the space as males (irrespective of their sexes) were free to move with their creative urge exploring the space. It was a symbolic copulation of Shiva (the neutral space) and Shakti (The actors), which produced the theatre; a metaphorical dropping of the creative seed, the semen…. Later, after his construction was done by the spread out leg of a hidden-head-woman, or rather Ganesha covers her head with his heavy presence, I could relate it to Puranic Lajja Gauri, the shy Goddess with exposed genitalia…. The body suggests the Nature, the absent face suggests “impersonality” of the set, the stance is that of a woman ready to offer herself to her beloved…that is  a strong image of pleasure-giving and fertility…..

I preferred Chinnomasta in place of Kali because she is a version of Kali as a Tantric goddess of Rasa, the juice of life. The cutting of her head and drinking her own blood signifies the sustenance of life on life itself.  The deaths and the reliving of the characters go effortlessly with the Mythos. Though the Kali designed  by Girish is drowsy and old… funny and tempered, but I felt that Padmini and Devdutt and Kapil with their intentions and anticipations could only relate to Chinnomasta and to no other versions of Shakti.

Music is a marvel created by a young and a promising artist and designer Sri Shuvam Moitro; Shuvam is more into contemporary music, exploring the world of neo-bangla trend of filtering western rock and jazz into traditional Gharana music and folk. At certain moments I have ushered him in as a solo performer with no characters on stage but the music alone in the empty space….  Sri Subrata Ghosh has initially helped us with the music design and we have used his tune for the Ganesh Vandana. Shuvam had worked upon the music of Ora Dujon, which was at first tuned by Subrato as a rough cut.

Lights designed by Sri Uttio Jana have flirted with the emotions and moods rampant in the space and has underplayed the time bound lights. He deliberately goes against the mood at times to generate a conflict, a dialogue with the mood of the scene. ‘Techy’ lasers to the age old spot lights in unison complemented the scenic prospect.

I enjoyed working with my extremely energetic and committed actors who have continuously enriched me with the semiotics of the body in space with their improvisations and the vocal orchestration of the dialogues and monologues. They had placed their bodies and a part of their intellect at my disposal in volition. A gargantuan task I had, to maneuver them in the pretext of the play and create a smooth stream of picturesque propositions, inconsistent ideas and diverse people….   Padmini played by Antara and Simran was a confluence of two cultural statuses; Antara an Actor with an exposure to mainstream Bangla group theatre is highly experimental and Simran, a strict vegetarian, a Jain, a teacher of Hindi, was closed to experiments with body; It was a resource in itself for the dramaturge in me.    Krishnendu plays Devdutt and Ayan plays Kapil, the former is more intense where the latter more boisterous. The puppets are operated by two young and enthusiastic actors, Narendra and Piyali. The Man with the Horses Head is played by Joy. The chorus is played by a very cooperative and strong team constituting Avijan, Susanta, Sankha and Arindam. They also run the errands that make a production complete in itself. Kali and Nat is played by veteran actors Robin da and Anuradha di, they are fantastic as team members. A different school of theatre has groomed them to have a certain rigidity in concept which they gradually tried to shed off and participated in the workshops with a very progressive and flexible mind. Myriad ideas though at loggerheads at times moved into the right places for their sincerity and dedication.

The costume and the colour code were evolved through consecutive discussions among the actors, Gopal da, Tutul da gave inputs. Makeup artists helping the troop are Tutul da, Arun da and Pushpa (a female theatre makeup artist that is very rare in our Kolkata theatre circuit). Rasbehari plays the music for the play.

Loads of thanks to Swapan da of Padatik whose presence itself gives us strength. He has been facilitating us with all the background support that was required to come up with the production. Lakhi di was as cooperative as ever.

This is the last paragraph with the most important attachment which prompted the production to where it is now. Sri Shyamanand Jalan and Chetna DI (Ms. Chetna Jalan) had been a mentor throughout, guiding me from time to time on the finer details of the production. At the same time they would never ever intervene in the design and direction of the play.  They have provided an interesting platform for young artists to explore, experiment and discover the strange world of theatre. Shyamanadji helped us with a meeting with the playwright Girish Karnad where we could discuss his play before we took off for the Stage/ Space….

A mystical ride indeed…..




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