A clash between Durga and Mahishasura or a clash between yin and yang. Theatre Nisha explores this in a 70-minute play.
The story of Goddess Durga and the demon king Mahishasura never struck me as anything more than a straightforward tale of good triumphing over evil. But speaking with V Balakrishnan, the founder of Theatre Nisha, ahead of his new play, The Woman Who Killed a Buffalo, throws open a variety of interpretations. Did you ever think of it as a clash between yin and yang? Or that it resembled an Amitabh Bachchan film? “His father is killed protecting his mother from a person intent on raping her. So for a boy to take revenge is, in today’s connotation, poetic justice. But since hedecides to march on the heavens, he is cast as the villain,” begins Balakrishnan, who admits he has always felt the story had more esoteric meaning than what the average Amar Chitra Katha explored. “When I was reading the Srimad Devi Bhagwatam (on which the play is based), there is a part where Durga sends word to Mahisha, stating she will sit on top of him. He believes she is referring to sex. And why use the word mardhini (Mahishasura Mardhini), which means to grind? There is a lot of tantric symbolism here, so much of hidden philosophy,” he adds.
Peeling away the layers
However, the director has been careful not to ‘interpret’ the story—especially in the light of how sensitive the topic is (who can forget the recent debate in Parliament, when the Opposition took offence at a pamphlet with objectionable writings on Durga?). He feels the symbolisms are strong enough to come through on its own. “There is a lot of marginalisation, too, at the periphery of this story. Lord Indra keeps calling Mahisha a beast. Those words must have generated a lot of angst and anger,” he says. “Yet, there is also an interesting scene, where Mahisha proposes marriage to Durga, saying that war is such an ugly thing. For the so-called villain to say this is so democratic,” he shares.
Art of war
Balakrishnan feels getting actors Ganapathy Murugesan and Kasturi Goswami, a real-life couple, was a casting coup. In a play that requires a lot of physicality, their energies match. “The play is essentially storytelling and, since much of it is war, I’ve explored body movement. Silambam is one of the major war idioms I’ve used, besides concepts of kalari, yoga and mixed martial arts,” he says, adding that Murugesan being a trained martial artist and Goswami a yoga instructor helped. With low-key lighting to highlight the play’s sparse, visceral feel, and percussion interspersed with live singing of the Aigiri Nandini, it promises to raise goosebumps and perhaps new interpretations.
On April 9-10, at 7 pm, at Spaces. Details: 42158062
—Surya Praphulla Kumar