Girish Karnad's Hayavadana is supposed to be a classic of modern Indian theatre. It's based on Thomas Mann's The Transposed Heads which in turn is inspired by a narrative out of an eleventh century anthology of Indian legends - Kathasaritsagara; which means that it's a reinterpretation by an Indian playwright of a work by a Western writer which itself is a reworking of an Indian legend. The play is bookended by the story of a horse-headed man Hayavadana (who although important to the play's themes, is not its subject). At the beginning of the play, Hayavadana seeks out advice from the other actors about becoming somewhat complete. He then only reappears at the end, having become 'complete'.
The central narrative is about two friends, Kapila and Devdutta who live in classical times. The two are like chalk and cheese. Devdutta is a brahmin, a waif of a man who devotes his time to intellectual pursuits. Kapila is unlettered but his muscular body is renowned from the numerous wrestling events he's won. Devdutta becomes besotted by Padmini, a local lass and with Kapila's help the two get married. Padmini, however, secretly fantasizes about Kapila's Adonis-like physique and spends what seems to her husband, far too much time with him. On the road to Ujjain, Devdutta is overcome with a sense of his own inadequacy and makes his way to a ruined Kali temple where he kills himself. When Kapila finds Devdutta dead, he mourns the loss of his friend by killing himself as well. Padmni, left alone in the forest, finds the path to the temple where she beseeches the goddess to bring them back to life. Kali orders Padmini to put the heads back (they decapitated themselves, don't know how that's possible) on their body. In the dark, Padmini switches heads so Kapila's body gets Devdutta's head. She claims to have to done this inadvertently although later it's hinted that she did exactly what she desired. A struggle breaks out between the resurrected friends. Who gets the girl? Who is the father of the child growing inside Padmini? Is the real husband the one with Devdutta's head or his body? A sage rules in favour of the head ruling the body so Devdutta's head + Kapila's body turns out to be the winning combination; tragically to Kapila's loss who's compelled to stay in the forest with the soft, useless body of a brahmin. Nevertheless, the happily ever after isn't found so easily because each body seems to possess a mind of its own and Padmini retains her polyandrous bent of mind.
Hayavadana was an involving evening. I haven't see other versions of it so I can't really comment on this interpretation by the Industrial Theatre Co. and Black Boxers. It was surprisingly sprightly though and the actors constantly lightened the mood talking directly to the audience and making real-world jokes (Hayavadana, in search of a divine remedy for his horse head, claims to have approached the church - the actual church of St.Andrew and St.Columba at Lion's Gate - next door but complains that it's never open).
The hall at the K.R. Cama Oriental institute made for an interesting venue. The clean lines of this austere white art deco space compensate for its small size. The stage was set in the middle of the hall bordered by cushions. A red canopy with Chinese paper lanterns over this stage lent it the look of a dohyo - a sumo wrestling ring. The overall effect was very intimate as if you were within the scene, among the actors. But, at the same time, I didn't experience the sort of verisimilitude one feels in Privthi - where you become one with the space and the play becomes much more than a performance. Maybe it was because whenever you looked at the 'stage' n the K.R. Cama hall, you'd see a backdrop of faces, chairs and air-conditioning units.
The two strongest actors in this performance, Neil Bhoopalam and Dilnaz Irani, regrettably had marginal roles as narrators. There is a strong tradition of the sutradhar or narrator in Indian drama. I've never quite liked this partiality to explaining rather than acting but it seemed to suit Hayavadana. Irani at least got to briefly show off her incredible talent as the goddess Kali. Each word and movement attested to her sense of control and experience. The others put in a good effort but they were all missing something. Prashant Prakash who played Devdutta had a tendency to be overly dramatic, articulating his lines in a very affected way. Vivek Gomber, as Kapila, had an earnestness that was both a strength and a disadvantage in this role. Preetika Chawla was brilliant at first as the alluring and playful Padmini. But, later as her character develops, becoming increasingly complex - Chawla seemed unable to project herself in any other way than the lissome girl that's second nature to her. All three were missing the maturity and skill that was so palpable in Irani's performance. BTW, Hayavadana's alleged homo-erotic undercurrent doesn't amount to more than some bare-bodied wrestling moves. The play had interesting themes but wasn't as arresting as I thought it would be.
|Dilnaz Irani as the Goddess Kali (Image from http://tossedsalad.com)|