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    War and deforestation melds with the disrobing of Panchali in this dramatic operetta

    It may be presumptuous to make a comparison to TS Eliot’s Wasteland, but Prasanna Ramaswamy’s new production, Shakthi-k-Koothu, is almost as multi-layered. The play, which revisits the disrobing of Panchali in the Mahabharatha, uses the incident as a launchpad to explore the “continuum of the atrocity” through literary characters, historical happenings and contemporary events. “A few years ago, for a play I was doing on Karna, I read the Vyasa Mahabharatha. There is a portion where Krishna takes Arjuna outside and shows him Draupadi, standing like a fire shooting up from the Earth to the sky,” begins Ramawamy, adding she took a cue from that to draw comparisons between the woman and nature. “For this play, I’ve used Subramanya Bharati’s Panchali Shabadam, where he refers to her as energy, shakti. I’ve used it to connect violation to women, nature and war,” she says.
    Back and forth
    Created like an operetta—that moves between monologue, dialogue, music and dance—the stylised play hopes to be a reflection on our refusal to learn from history. “The action moves between different states of being: that of a person, actor and character. The actor might wonder about something, which is then reflected on by the character she is playing,” says the director, explaining she has used all the five elements to tell her tale. “Like the sequence on wind, which starts off as a celebratory evocation, before shifting to become a reflection on how it must have felt on the body of the half-burnt child in Vietnam, fleeing the napalm that it carried. And how, instead of music, in Nazi torture chambers, it would have carried screams.”
    The 85-minute play (which premiered this June in Paris) has actor Rohini, dancer Revathy Kumar and folk artiste Nellai Manikandan on stage. “The contemporary, stylised form of theatre interested me. There is constant interaction between the singer, who evokes each character, and me,” says Rohini. “The text also takes you to so many dimensions of the disrobing, talking about the powerless and the powerful.”
    Striking a chord
    Keeping the play’s fluidity and subject in mind, the sets are not constructed (“empty space is paramount as that’s where you bring your imagination”). It comprises various fabrics designed by artists Krishnapriya and Vasuhan. The music also ebbs and flows. “It is mostly raaga-based singing and evocations. I’ve also set poems—by poets like Cheran, Avvai, and Tirumavalavan—to music, besides working with compositions by Muthuswamy Dikshithar,” Ramawamy says. Though the play is not meant to teach any lessons, Ramawamy signs off with the hope that people realise that they can’t always wait for Krishna to come to their aid. “We need to use our own energies instead.”
    August 8, 9 and 11, at Alliance Francaise, Koothu-p-Pattarai and Spaces, from 7 pm. Free entry. Details: 9094038623

    Surya Praphulla Kumar

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