On October 30, 2014, Veenapani Chawla, founder of the Puducherry-based Adishakti Laboratory for Theatre Arts and Research, fell sick in Bengaluru, soon after watching the performance of Ganapati. The seminal play she had directed and produced was to be the last one she attended, and the theatre exponent passed away exactly a month later. The heartbroken cast and crew kept the production on the backburner since then. However, you can now catch the production courtesy a revival tour held in collaboration with Mumbai-based The Theatre Company this weekend.
Ganapati was the result of a grant from the India Foundation for the Arts. It revisits birth stories related to the elephant god and ideas like creation, destruction and return. The 1999 production’s narrative depicts the story of a group of artisans who are creating a unique sculpture of Ganapati for Ganeshotsav, as musicians work on tunes to accompany the festivities.
“Beyond folklore, the tales of Ganapati represent hybridity and acceptance of perspectives (he is part-elephant, part-human). He is a destroyer of obstacles such as narrow-mindedness. It is uniquely in the tales of Ganesha that conformity of creation is questioned, as his mother single-handedly created him. Again, the tales celebrate the possibility of return; whatever has gone wrong can be rectified,” says Vinay Kumar, a senior member of the cast, who has been a part of Adishakti for over two decades.
Ganapati is performed live for the audience with the actors doubling up as drummers. For the music, it uses Koodiyattam (a form of Sanskrit theatre performed in Kerala) percussion rhythms, south East Asian rhythms, as well as physical movements and verbal narration to tell the story. “Text is limited as Veenapani believed that communication is 10 per cent verbal and 90 per cent physical. One move can create more impact than 10 sentences,” adds Kumar. The productions are also minimal in terms of costumes; male performers sport white dhotis while female performers wear sleeveless bodices. “The production explores what an actor can create in an empty space,” says Kumar.
The revival of plays is a trademark of Adishakti where they perform a particular play, give it a break and revisit it later. “Every year, we try to revive one play. It requires intense rehearsal for at least a month. We do make changes but don’t kill the script. The revival always has additions; it’s never a reproduction. Since we dismantle and leave out many elements, the first show and the 20th one are strikingly different,” observes Kumar.
Chawla, a winner of the Sangeet Natak Akademi award, initially directed actor Naseeruddin Shah in Oedipus (1981) and actor Neena Gupta in The Trojan Women (1984). She quickly moved to experimental productions that were closer to her roots (like Ganapati and Brihannala, 1998). “Each of her plays was akin to a new language of theatre and hence, they took a long time to be formulated. That’s why she has done so few plays,” says Kumar.
What: Ganapati on February 20, 6pm and 9pm
Where: G5a Foundation for Contemporary Culture, Laxmi Mills Compound, Mahalaxmi
Call: 2490 9393