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    Theatre Nisha’s adaptation of Girish Karnad’splay, Flowers, poses some pertinent questions

    A priest commits a sacrilegious act—falling in love with a courtesan—and awaits divine punishment. But when nothing happens, he decides to be his own judge and punisher. The premise of Flowers, the play by Girish Karnad, might seem quite simple, but the mindscape it explores is both dark and complex. And that’s one of the things that inspired V Balakrishnan, the founder of Theatre Nisha, to direct it. “I am intrigued by how we think God takes an interest in our moral quandaries, when, in reality, the divine force has nothing to do with our human-created weaknesses. At the end of the day, it’s we who reward and punish ourselves for these so-called transgressions,” explains the director.
    Based on a folk-tale from the Chitradurga region of Karnataka, the play has big expectations to match. (In 2006, it had premiered at Bengaluru’s Ranga Shankara Theatre Festival, with Roysten Abel directing Rajit Kapur.) But Balakrishnan admits to not watching even one of its 50 subsequent stagings. “My approach will be different. I’m working with an established actor like TM Karthik who will be bringing his own aesthetic. In fact, I’m impressed with how he uses body language and interprets certain philosophies,” he says.
    Dark recesses
    For Karthik, getting into character—of a man living in a bygone era, whose moral dilemma is so stark—was a challenge. “To prepare, I mentally cut off from everything and got into the priest’s mind, to see how he would react. And whenever I hit a bump, Bala pushed me to think harder,” admits the actor, who hopes he can hold the audience’s attention for 65 minutes.
    Flowers has experimented with its presentation, too. Since Karnad wrote it in a short story format, Balakrishnan felt he should use it. So while it is crafted as a dramatic monologue, he also introduces the courtesan and the Shiva linga. “Since the linga is the only object with which the priest has real conversations, it is more of a live presence in his life than his own wife. So I gave it a human form to make it more poignant. However, they are images and memories, rather than people he interacts with,” he says. The play also uses light to explore the claustrophobia of the protagonist’s mind, while live music—mantras and aalaps by singer Srivaralakshmi Maya and percussion using South Indian instruments like the thappu and urumi by Vishwa Bharath—provide depth.
    Morality has been a common theme in several of Theatre Nisha’s recent productions—including Ring-a-Ring-A-Roses, which was staged a couple of weeks ago—and Balakrishnan says it is not happenstance. “I am a strong believer in the free spirit. Daily we see how morality plays a huge role in our politics and our religion, to keep people in check. These plays are part of my endeavour to break free from that,” he concludes.
    July 25-26. At Spaces, from 7 pm. Details: 42158062

    Surya Praphulla Kumar

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