hen Adishakti’s artistic director, Vinaykumar KJ, tells me that they are staging Ganapati—a play that deals with creation, celebration, destruction and return—it strikes me that the four words also describe the Pondicherry-based theatre group’s philosophy towards work. A new play is always celebrated with many stagings, then retired for a while, so they can explore other themes, before it is dusted off, to be looked at with fresh eyes. “Our guru, the late Veenapani (Chawla), did this so there would be constant growth,” explains Vinaykumar, elaborating that Ganapati, which was last staged in 2014, will be setting out on a five-city tour, beginning with Auroville on February 16.
The biggest change in the new edition is that instead of five performers, there will now be six. “As Ganapati developed out of a desire to explore rhythm as text, this addition lets us explore more rhythmic structures, which, in turn, makes the play more dynamic,” he says.
The play blends several storylines—that of a group of artisans making the god’s idol for an annual festival, enactments of the god’s birth myths, and a group of musicians trying to find their balance after another, with a different rhythm, joins them. “Each story focusses on change and conflict, where it is up to the individual to accept it or reject it,” says the 45-year-old, explaining, “Ganapati epitomises the hybrid. He challenged creation (Parvati made him, no man had a part in his birth), which led Shiva to challenge it. This theme, of traditions clashing with change, is reflected around us today, too—think of how people become violent when faced with another perspective. So the subject is very contemporary.”
On how the play evolved, Vinaykumar recalls that in the late 90s, they were getting familiar with the rhythmic structures of koodiyattom, where “music is not an accompaniment, but rather the director, creating the emotional landscape for the actor to form his expressions”. The resemblance of the mizhavu (the drum used in koodiyattom) to the elephant-headed god, sparked the idea for the play. “Since we needed a wider reference, we crafted it as an interpretation of the birth stories related to Ganapati, and the myths are retold from different points of view,” he adds.
Sound and light
Set to the beats of the mizhavu, thappattam, tabala and djembe, the play uses a strong physical language, too, to convey its meaning. “It doesn’t have a linear movement; the actors are the musicians and narrators, and they move back and forth between those roles,” he says. Lights have also been used very efficiently. “Since the play is quite static, we gave it mobility with lights, using it like a camera to zoom, go wide. Each rhythmic shift has a shift in lights, too,” he smiles. Currently rehearsing with the other actors—Arvind Rane, Pascal Sieger, Nimmy Raphel, Anoop Davis and Apoorva Arthur—Vinaykumar signs off saying that later this year, they will change tracks again, with a new play, Mattavilasa Prahasana, that takes a satirical look at religion.
On February 16, at 8 pm, at Sri Aurobindo Auditorium, Bharat Nivas, Auroville. Details:
—Surya Praphulla Kumar