Dr. Payal Trivedi in dialogue with Janardan Ghosh, on his experience of directing Hayavadana.
Payal: Firstly please tel us something about the choice of doing Hayavadana for the contemporary audience.
Janardan: Well…. it was Sri Shyamanand Jalan’s (the founder of Padatik) advice to do a Girish Karnad play. Girish was then in Kolkata attending a Badal Sircar Festival. I met him, discussed few issues on contemporary theatre, and then proposed to do Hayavadana in Bengali. First, one of the greatest Bengali poets, Sri Sankha Ghosh, did the Bengali translation. I liked his translation a lot and Girish approved of that. Secondly, Hayavadana and Nagamandala represents Karnad’s fixation with moulding legendary tales for the contemporary audience in an effort to fashion a modern Indian theatre idiom. Lastly, it had a proven dramatic viability for its use of numerous methods of entertainment. It had been performed by the greatest of the actors whom I adore like, Amol Palekar and Amrish Puri.
Payal: Secondly, the manner in which the play is designed certainly true to the folk dramatic style of musical oral story-telling. Together, there is modernity that doesn’t hide itself even under the apparent garb of tradition which according to me is the main attraction of your production. Miming is presented as acting in the modern sense excluding peculiarities of classical or folk dramatic performance and music adds an urban touch in the apparent folk style rendition. This fusion as you said during our interaction was a deliberate attempt to display the hybridity present in the play itself; the way it was designed without harping on indigenous peculiarities. However, in your production, the ethnic core of the play does become prominent with an introduction that elaborately qualifies Indian theme and context of the play followed by a Ganeshavandana which indubitably corresponds to Indian theatre tradition of making a play performance a means to reach the experience of the divine. Even the musical story-telling is exemplary of Natyamode of presenting the play performance more as Abhinayathan as a mere acting in the modern sense also. So, the hybridity becomes subtly implied through the means of tradition which according to me is the highlight of this production. Now as a director, please explain to me the reason for which this fusion of modern in the folk style of rendition was chosen to be so subtle; so very implied. This is interesting since I have come across productions of the play which have either remained true to the folk style element in the production entirely making Hayavadana represent the same tradition or productions that have tried to most conspicuously fuse tradition and modernity with choice of settings and props as well as music and dance which combine Indo-Western style of rendition. Yours has been a very different attempt. Stage uses minimal of properties, technical specificities are absent and performance happens on almost a bare stage. Kindly tell uswhat you feel about this very distinct mode of rendition adopted for the play.
Janardan: Girish’s departure from the Western method of plotting of action through causation-character-conflict pattern to a very indigenous stratagem of storytelling fascinated me. I wanted to begin with the simple art of storytelling and then gradually drift into the intricate world of well-rehearsed theatrical performance. The first episode in the portico is an open ended interactive session which involved a lot of audience participation, I also offered choice to the audience to sit through the performance or walk out if they found it worthless and before leaving at least get the story from the sculptor who waits near the gate with his exhibition of heads. The sculptor was continuously making heads outside the auditorium. I always wished that some people would move out and try that. It only happened when they came for the second or the third time that they opted for the choice of staying with the sculptor who narrated the play to them while others watched the play in the auditorium. The horse’s head, the puppets, and the songs offered me an opportunity to exhaust all my creative thinking into it. I deliberately chose the music director from the younger group who were more into contemporary ‘Band Music’, passionately involved in Jazz and Rock. My crew initially disapproved of the music as it was starkly opposite to the traditional episodic orientation of the play. However, I insisted on the mood and not the form and tried to marry the tradition with the contemporary by focusing on the essential feelings of the actors (modern, who are stimulated by contemporary music) that generated the requisite mood of the episodes.
Payal: I was intrigued by the manner in which you have drawn Padmini’s character. Her mismatch of heads seems to be deliberate attempt and Kali adds weightage to this inference by calling her deed as “Badmaishi” But in the performance still, the actor playing Padmini manages to retain the confusing look which doesn’t keep her emotions for the ‘other man’ unnoticed. This is a very complex treatment of a character on stage. She wants to go to the forest to Kapila but her feet don’t co-operate indicating her quandary of being tied up between tradition enforced upon her and her radical beliefs which provoke her to exercise her volition. You said you would have many Padmini’s or rather many actors playing Padmini’s role as she is a very complex figure. Please in a few lines tell me how you view Padmini which motivates you to use many women-characters to play the same role.
Janardan: Many think that Padmini was caught between two choices, the head or the body, the intellect or the physique…. But Girish seems to emphasize her lamentable attachment to the physical aspect of love… we find her never to appreciate the intellectual efficacy of Devadatta. She is infatuated with Kapil on his first visit itself and gradually becomes a plaything of only her physical passions. I have consciously tried to add more shades to her being, cause my imagination of a ‘Padmini’ couldn’t stop at the threshold of the body alone… it had to transcend the body and that is the reason I chose the end the play by making her walk towards Nirvana than to the Pyre for Sati. I read that according to Betal Panchavimshati Kapila is the sibling brother of Padmini and not Devdatta’s friend. Wise king Vikram grants Padmini the right to enjoy her brother sexually with her husband’s head superimposed on his head. We see that in pre-Aryan cultures of our country the practice of sibling marriage existed, ex. Yama- Yami story…etc. We shall talk about it later… that would have been another challenge… bold and controversial… the choice for the woman becomes difficult… will she choose her most intimately known dependable male as her consort or…. Anyway Padmini had always fascinated me and I have invested a lot in the creation of this character… the one you saw had only one Padmini as the other one was sick that day…. However, we had two Padmini’s one with the desire to win and the other to evaluate and forge a path new yet satisfactory…. One Padmini with deep body consciousness… the other with the mind and body afflictions…
Payal: The ending of the play came as a surprise. You did not choose to continue with the story of Hayavadana. Can you please tell me the reason for the same… Firstly I view it as an end that complements to the folk style ending of culminating the play on an open-ended note. But the play began with the story of Hayavadana and is left incomplete. How would you explain this choice?
Janardan: Stylistically it was a return to the basic form… but thematically by then we have moved very deep into the issue of hybridity in form and subject and even at the microscopic level of individual beings… returning to the Hayavadana tale would be facile and therefore we moved further deep by involving the Audience in the physical act of pasting different heads on different bodies on the Canvas kept in the portico. I wanted them to experience the excitement of putting Manmohan Singh’s head on Mamata’s body and ….. I also wanted them to absorb the hybridity that we are in… a quasi-western civilization… our thinking, our dress, our food… everything…. While I read portions from Gita about the mortality of Human existence and Padmini was being smeared with mud by the sculptor…. The body that turns to dust is somewhat recognized by Padmini…
I think that is really too much of talking now…a lot of noise I suppose…. I must add a period now.