As people close to me know, I have a thing for theatre. From Prithvi to Madhusudan Mancha, I catch a good play whenever I possibly can. With Kolkata’s reputation for good theatre, it is not surprising that I try to see as many as I can whenever I am in town. However, not all of them come up to scratch (as you can see from
Two evenings of theatre), not even some of the more hyped ones.
It was with equal amounts of Trepidation and expectation, therefore, that I set out to watch URUBHANGAM, by Kasba Arghya Productions. Directed by Manish Mitra, this is a MEGA performance – a retelling of the main narrative of the mahabharat – lasting SIX hours! Just the thought of that was a little daunting, if not for me then for my 65 year old mother with her osteoporotic knees. But, the concept sounded good, so being die hard theatre goers, we decided to chance it.
A breath of relief was taken when they announced that there would be four breaks in the performance, but it seemed strange that they wanted everyone to leave the auditorium, each time. Being more used to the informal and “almost sitting on the stage” ambience of Prithvi, I am more familiar with sets being changed as I watch. I later realized that there are performances going on outside the auditorium in the breaks, which act as fillers, completers, enhancers for the main narrative.
When the performance began, not knowing what to expect, I was a bit unsure how I would like it. When it began, it seemed a little pretentious, and a little too wannabe. But that was for about five minutes before Ronit Modak took the stage, and took the narrative by the horns. One young man becoming a whole bunch of characters over the space of 6 hours. He is Satyavati, he is Radha, he is Arjun, he is Draupadi, he is Bheem, Krishna, Mohini, Duryodhan, Dushasan, Kunti, Gandhari, Dhritarashtra. A consummate actor, and a true chameleon, he seems to almost channel the characters on stage, his body language, his posture, his entire personality seems to morph while you watch, becoming the new person, until you can no longer see the actor in it.
Mother or child, man or woman or a third gender, god, or hero or mere mortal, he flows from one to another in the blink of an eye, and does it so well that you know what character he is in, before he opens his mouth! That alone would have made the evening completely worthwhile for me (not to mention the fact that he is a good looking, toned, physically fit young man with long hair, which I happen to like in men), but the rest of the performance far outweighs expectations too!
What a rare and pleasant surprise it is for me to go to something with high expectations, and instead of being disappointed, to come out feeling enriched, overwhelmed, and soul-satisfied! The multiple layers of the performance, the multiple languages, the multiple threatre styles, the dance, the art, the lighting, the music, the multiple focused areas on stage, the choice of which parts of the massive Mahabharata narrative to highlight – it all combines to lift Urubhangam from a play to the level of a sublime experience. The only complaint I have is that some of the dance sequences, especially the ones depicting the various instances of one-on-one hand-to-hand combat could have been shorter. By the end of the 6 hours, they begin to grate on the nerves a bit.
They tell you, at the beginning of the performance, that it took four years for the play to be developed to its final form. I say that those four years were extremely well spent. This is one COMPLETE experience, one not often found even in the rarefied layers of “good theatre”. The replete, heart heavy, almost-want-to-weep feeling I stepped out of the auditorium with is my measure of a perfect play. So much so… that I am going to re-experience it on the 22nd.
Pretentious – apparently, but not quite
Overlong – in bits
Overwhelming – certainly
Difficult to sit through – for many
Worth the effort --- undoubtedly
All in all… an evening extremely well spent, and the afterglow still continues. Thank you Kasba Arghya, Thank you Manish Mitra, See you again soon.