These days, I am hooked on reading about Ravindranath Tagore, his life, his works, Shantiniketan and other various facets of his personality and life. I traveled to Bengaluru last month. One of my favorites things to do whenever I go there, is to catch up on plays and latest on theater scene here. I was fortunate to witness two shows this trip. One of them was Girish Karnad’s famous, classic play Taledand, in Kannada. The other one was Chitraa. This one was in English. It is a modern day adaption of Ravindranath Tagore’s Bengali play Chitrangada written in 1891. After learning about this show, I did not really want to miss this, despite being on weekday evening, as the play was by Tagore. It was perfect opportunity for me to extend my immersion into Tagore era.
I rushed to the Rang Shankara that evening where this play was to take place. I was handed over a pamphlet containing information about the play. As I entered inside, I noticed a young man was playing flute in one corner of the stage. He was standing, while his accompaniment tabla player was sitting. He played few pieces for fifteen minutes or so before the play began. I had an idea of the story line of play as I had read it earlier somewhere. It is a dance-drama style treatment to a Mahabharata side story. This story is that of princess, named Chitrangada, of kingdom of Manipur, in north east of India and one of the five in-exile Pandavas, Arjun. There are many such side stories in Mahabharata, throwing light on eternal human qualities through ages of mankind.
The play was produced by Red Polka Productions, which is Bengaluru based amateur theater company. Chitrangada is only child of the King of Manipur and also heir to the throne. She dresses like a man and is the protector of the land. One day, she meets Arjuna and falls in love with him. She is concerned about her manly appearance, also not being beautiful. Arjuna is impressed by her fighting abilities but all along believes her to be a man. Chitrangada believes he could never be her lover the way she is. She receives a boon from Kamadeva, Hindu God of Love, and she transforms herself into a beautiful woman. When she meets Arjuna again, he cannot help but fall in love with her. But later she reveals her true self to his shock. What happens next? How does Arjuna react to that? To get answers, you need to watch the play. I don’t want to spoiler here. This play is about journey from bodily love, lust to pure, transcendental love.
The 95 minute play keeps the audiences spellbound from the word go. After opening solo dance, the pair of Kamadeva and his seemingly homosexual companion (Vasanta, God of Seasons) enters the scene. Warrior princess prays for change in her look which she is granted. The pair brings in humor in the play which is refreshing. Arjuna, who is dressed like a common person, as he is in exile, enters and falls for her. There are nicely choreographed dance sequence between them which are sensuous to watch. I somehow did not find actor who was portraying Arjuna quite apt for the needs of the role. He lacked energy as Arjuna the warrior, Arjuna as romantic lover, too.
Mahabharata is full of such stories, as I said earlier. Earlier this year, I had watched, famous Marathi music drama(संगीत नाटक) of bygone era, called Sangit Soubhadra, which also happens to be on Arjuna and his marriage to Subhadra, sister of Krishna. This particular show of Bengali play, was a different experience to watch, as it was in English, plus heavy on dance, music, songs. A lot has been written about Tagore’s plays and his treatment to theatrical possibilities and experiments. Chitrangada is just one of his 52 plays handling various contemporary subjects in different styles and forms.
Chitrangada finds mention in Bhyrappa’s Kannada mega novel Parv. I am reading its Marathi translation right now, so more about it later. Apart from Chitrangada, Arjuna had married Uloopi. She is said to adapt Babruvahana, the son of Chitrangada and Arjuna. I had watched Kannada movie titled Babruvahana, played by Dr Rajkumar, Kannada megastar of 1970s. This was another reason to catch the play.