“Shakuntala Remembered” at Ranga Shankara

This evening, “Shakuntala Remembered” opened at Ranga Shankara, Having read that it was a combination of theatre, text, Kalari payattu, video, and music, I decided that it was definitely worth watching.

The play has its base in the story of Shakuntala, the daughter of a sage and an apsara, who is brought up in the forest ashram of another sage. A king falls in love with her, marries her according to Gandharva rites, and leaves, promising to come back for her. When she loses the ring he gave her, he forgets all about her, even disowning her when she presents herself and her son at court; later, on seeing the ring, memories come flooding back, and he returns to the forest to claim his wife and child.

Kirtana Kumar, who is both an actress and a documentary film-maker, both acted in, and directed, the play. She took a major part of the play on her shoulders, with lots of dialogue, translations from the Bhagavatham, verse, references from several texts…and also played the part of the Sutradhar or narrator.

Konarak Reddy, well-known in Bangalore music circles for decades now, and who is now set to tour in France, played an assortment of instruments, added to the dialogue, played recorded music and effects from his Macbook (which held equal position with his musical instruments), and often recited the “Jathi” or rhythmic phrases along with Kirtana.

Anmol Mothi brought the Kalari Payattu form to the stage, and acted as the amnesiac king. His movements were lithe and graceful and a joy to behold. All his lines were in Malayalam.

The play seems to focus more on the loss of memory and the “departure of righteousness” in the Kali Yuga, the fourth quarter of Time before the all-dissolving Pralaya or Flood.

At the end of the play, Kirtana introduced all the people who had helped backstage, too…the video credits going to Little Jasmine Films and Digi Funk, the Production Manager being Nalini Rathnam, the Sound Design by K Venkatachalam, the lights by Paresh Kumar, and several members of the backstage crew, who were wearing identifying tee-shirts.

Somehow, though the component parts were excellent…the music, the dialogue, the dance and the movement…the whole thing never jelled into the synergetic whole that we expected. It was like watching independent elements which had not yet fused. Surprising, because this production premiered in Bangalore (at Ranga Shankara) in December 2006 and has gone to London and St Albans, too.

And considering that the play seems to have excellent backing (valuedesignbuild, a firm or architects, was prominently mentioned as being very interactive), it was rather surprising that tickets were priced at a high of Rs.150. It certainly hit us in our pocketbooks…and I was not amused to hear a crew member telling someone who protested, “This kind of play would cost you 60 dollars in the US!” We are NOT in the US, we are in a theatre space where the USP is supposed to be theatre that is affordable for everyone.

The brochure was well-designed and looked excellent, but lacked that essential feature, an email id or a contact number where someone could get in touch with Little Jasmine, or provide feedback. There was no feedback session after the play, either.

All in all, a fairly good effort, but one which has not yet coalesced into a tangible, unified whole. Perhaps one could wait for Little Jasmine to bring it the next time around….

The play is on at Ranga Shankara tomorrow, the 18th, at 1930 hours, and on Sunday the 19th at 1530 hours and 1930 hours.

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