Blending mythology and koodiyattam, Bhima uses action, sound and light to tell the Pandava’s story
Theatre had been a part of his life ever since college. But at 22, all Vivek Vijaya-kumaran knew were its contemporary interpretations. Then, in 2009, at a workshop by Adishakti, he found a form that intrigued him. “In one of the segments, called Breath Practices for Navarasam, I was introduced to koodiyattam, a classical Sanskrit theatre form from Kerala with a history of over 2,000 years,” recalls Vijayakumaran, explaining how he found that the actor’s actions had a depth and intensity that he found missing in contemporary work. This encounter has since grown into one of his most challenging productions, Bhima, which he is “bringing back” to Adishakti this weekend.
Taking us back to the beginning, Vijayakumaran says that though he had wanted to pursue koodiyattam, he couldn’t find a context. Until he did a dramatised reading of Ashok Malhotra’s book, Child Man, in 2011. He read the part of Bhima. “The author used him as an archetype to comment on urban living. And I felt it was an opportunity to marry both ideas—to train in the theatre form and to make a play on this complex man,” he says, adding, “The play explores the space between where we come from and where we want to go. Bhima is strong yet vulnerable; he’s a man with ideals, but unable to stick by his convictions.” The Bengaluru-based actor-director feels it also draws a parallel with our lives, where, with technological advances, humanity is taking a beating.
As he worked on the plot, he also began training under koodiyattam artistes G Venu and Sooraj Nambiar in Kerala—focussing on the act, Ajagarakabalitham (where Bhima sees an elephant being devoured by a snake and a lion). “My narrative begins with this episode, and then moves to four others—like his relationship with Hidimbi, whom his mother asks him to forsake, and his rage at Draupadi’s vastrahan, which he can’t act upon as he can’t go against his older brother,” he says.
A new language
The 31-year-old has used body movement, sound, light and text to tell the tale. As he didn’t want to imitate the classical form, Vijayakumaran says that his mudras are deconstructed, creating a physical language “that is my interpretation”. He is accompanied by Sachin Gurjale on the djembe, didgeridoo, shankh (conch) and shaker. Gurjale trained in koodiyattam percussion, so that his music “enhanced the actor’s actions”. “The set is minimal, just some bamboo lights designed by (theatre artiste) Anish Victor. We’ve also used light to add to the narrative,” he explains. Currently training under Manipuri director Kanhailal Heinsman, focussing on body presence, next up, Vijayakumaran is planning a non-verbal production for children.
Tomorrow, at 7 pm, at Adishakti, Pondicherry. Details: 0413 2622287
—Surya Praphulla Kumar