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Thursday October 24, 2013 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Thursday October 24, 2013 MYT 9:38:34 AM
by dinesh kumar maganathan
Forceful: Puravalan who played Bishma had strong stage presence.
A Singaporean theatre company sheds new light on two prominent characters from the Mahabharata saga.
THE downpour was thunderous, one befitting an epic saga. The people were relentless, not allowing something as trivial as rain stop them.
After all, if rain and thunder and the elements were ever allowed to be a hindrance, then the characters from Mahabharata, the longest epic in the world, would have met untimely deaths. In fact, the crowd poured into the auditorium of Kompleks Budaya Kuala Lumpur last Friday to watch Moksha, a double bill on two well-known characters from Mahabharata itself.
Presented by Avant Theatre And Language, an Indian theatre company from Singapore, in collaboration with Fenomena Seni Produksi, Moksha presents the tale of Bhishma and Sakuni.
Bhisma is a renowned guru in the epic known for his superior intellect and his might as an unparalleled warrior, but he lived a life of loneliness and sadness.
Sakuni on the other hand is known as the Master of the Dice and is the main villain often credited as the warrior who had orchestrated the Mahabharata war.
Directed by Selva Avant, Bhishma evaluated the psychology of a worshiped mortal while Sakuni explored the inner workings of a devious soul.
Ask any stage actor and they will tell you that the burden of carrying their characters on stage is monumental and the challenge to keep that character alive and vibrant can make one sweat blood. So you can imagine the heaviness of the task shouldered by Puravalan who played Bishma.
For nearly an hour, it was just him on stage going through the motions and emotional journey of Bishma. Physically, that’s quite a cumbersome task.
Notwithstanding, his energy and vibrancy was so potent, he captivated the audience. Puravalan breathed life into the very being of Bishma and displayed strong physical presence, forming interesting stage pictures.
Similarly, the cast of Sakuni were equally captivating to watch. The actor who played Draupadi, a representation of the Goddess, should particularly be mentioned for portraying her character with depth. In fact, she was the only one who seemed to be in touch with her character.
While the actors who played Bishma and Sakuni were strong vocally and physically and brought their characters to life via these aspects, the inner workings of their characters were lacking and depth of character was left wanting. They may have engaged with the soul of their characters on one or two occasions, but as a whole, their acting, though strong, was surface level.
However, the energy exuded by the actors was infectious. They filled the stage and beyond with their presence, it gave the audience no chance, not even for a fleeting moment, to glance elsewhere. Their bigger than life personas and exaggerated physical movements was a spectacle to watch, especially if you are more attuned to naturalistic acting.
An interesting element was added to Sakuni, the only thing that was contemporary and bordering experimentalism in the entire production. Three actors, two male and one female, were clad entirely in black, had black cloaks and their faces were painted white.
These beings morphed from game masters to Sakuni’s family members and even Draupadi’s servants. For this writer, they appeared to be the inner thoughts of both Sakuni and Draupadi. Had the trio committed fully to their roles, their presence on stage would have been stronger.
If the actors are the cake, then the lights and soundscape are the cherries on top. No theatre performance is complete without some light changes and music that transports us to the world of the play. Mokhsha’s period music, featuring violins and tabla and veenai, truly played a vital role in that it acted as an entry point to the age and era of the pieces and enhanced the dramatic twists and turns.
The usage of multimedia to depict a burning fire was a smart move. During the penultimate scene in Bishma, immediately the entire stage turned red and amber and the multimedia added a second layer of flame, changing the entire set into a cauldron of fire.
Interestingly, for two stories taken from the longest epic in the world, the set was the bare minimum. One might be quick to judge and reckon this to be an instrumental failure on the part of the production. But the bare stage and the minimalistic use of props served as an advantage to the play.
Anything more and the stage would have been more crowded than Batu Caves during Thaipusam and probably limited the actors’ movements.
Though this writer was lost in translation as Moksha was presented in chaste Tamil (perhaps I should have picked up Tamil when I was younger) and was thus unable to follow the heated dialogues and discourses exchanged between the characters, the underlying story and themes explored in Moksha were clear and came across brightly.
Family, one’s very fate and existence, freedom, righteousness, pain and guilt are all elements we as human beings are familiar with and hold dear and it was within these perimeters that the story and lives of the characters unravelled.
Tags / Keywords:
Entertainment, Moksha, Indian theatre, Bishma, Sakuni, Avant Theatre, Fenomena Seni Produksi
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