When theatre director-actor Jyoti Dogra visited the University of Panjab (Chandigarh) recently, a few theatre students from the university approached her to put together playwright Girish Karnad’s acclaimed drama, Agni Aur Barkha (Agni Mattu Male in Kannada; The Fire And The Rain in English).
Dogra agreed to direct the piece. However, due to the unavailability of a rehearsal space and the lack of financial resources, the team decided to relocate to Indri, a small village in Haryana, which was home to one of the actors.
The panchayat, the local school principal, and the friends and families of the actors agreed to host the group, thus giving birth to Dogra’s latest work Toye, which has been produced by the Shaheed Somnath Smarak Samiti.
“What’s interesting is that the actors came together for the play. Mostly, it’s the director who has to bring together a team. With a little [amount of] money in place and the goodwill of the village folks, we all proceeded to Indri and began working on the piece,” says Dogra.
The power of body language
Toye, which means water in Sanskrit, is based on the retelling of a small incident that is mentioned in the Mahabharata. The incident was adapted for the stage by Karnad in the ’90s. In her version, Dogra employs the [Jerzy] Grotowski process of physical theatre. “This method harnesses the actors’ instincts. It uses the actors’ primal responses to the play’s text, to the sound of word, etc.,” says Dogra.
Thus, the play and the set have materialised based on how the actors initially perceived scenes. “Everything is driven by the actor’s process. The idea was to give them direction and find out what it is in the text that draws them. It could be a singular word, the sound of a word, or large chunks [of the play]. The focus is not so much on making meaning out of the text, but on making meaning out of the world,” adds the director.
Sticking to the original
After Karnad’s play was first performed in 1996 at the National School of Drama, Delhi, he vehemently objected to the drama being edited in any manner. So, does Dogra feel a sense of responsibility towards the original script? “There are these inherent ideas in the play that appealed to me. But when I started working on the production, I realised that different actors were getting moved by different ideas in the text.
As a matter of fact, I wrote to Girish Karnad, and he wrote back saying that nobody had ever done the play using the Grotowski process. So, it has become more stylised and there are abstract bits in it. I don’t feel a dogged faithfulness is necessary. But, at the same time, I do think there should be a strong reason for picking up a play, and that reason should guide you through the process of performing it,” explains Dogra.
Interestingly, the director has also incorporated Vedic chants in the play, for which scholars were consulted. For instance, in a lovemaking scene, the Vedic word ‘angaha’ has been used.
“We’re using the sound of the word to signify lovemaking. The sound sort of pushes one’s body towards a particular aesthetic. I don’t expect the audience to understand it completely, but the sound kind of creates something that is subliminal; something that is sexual and ritualistic,” says Dogra.
Caste and class
The play revolves around a power play between Brahminical characters and a love affair between a Brahmin boy and a tribal girl. Dogra also clarifies that “the idea of caste” is part of the production, but that she has not worked “very elaborately with it”.
“It’s interesting that the hero of the play comes from a Brahmin family and wants to marry a tribal girl. Eventually, it’s their love story that forces the gods to bring down the rain. But I have worked more on the sexual politics of the play,” she adds.
Synopsis of the play
In a drought-ridden kingdom, Paravasu, who belongs to a Brahmin family, is selected to perform a yajna to invoke the rain gods. He leaves his wife, Vishakha, who was in love with Paravasu’s cousin, Yavakri, behind. Vishakha meets Yavakri after her husband leaves, and their love is rekindled.
Meanwhile, Paravasu’s brother, Aravasu, falls in love with a tribal girl, Nittilai, and he is also interested in theatre. In the end, it is the sacrifice of two innocent lovers, Aravasu and Nittlai, which restores order, convincing the gods to send the rain.
Prithvi Theatre, Juhu, on November 11, at 6pm and 9pm
G5A Foundation for Contemporary Culture, Mahalaxmi, on November 12, at 7.30pm and on November 13, at 4.30pm and 7.30pm
St Joseph School, Bandra (W), on November 18, at 8pm
Sitara Studio, Lower Parel, on November 19th, at 8pm and on November 20, at 5pm and 8pm
The author tweets @literarystew