My second production in Kannada language was premiered in Kuvempu Rangamandira at Shivamogga Karnataka, on 10th May at 7.00 pm. This time it is a children’s play Bommanahalliya Kindari Jogi adapted, designed and directed from the poem with the same name penned by Kuvempu, produced and performed by MP Prakash Arts Foundation Shivamogga. My first production in Kannada was Madhuve Hennu by HS Shivaprakash performed by Holeranga Honnali.
Kuvempu (Kuppali Venkatappagowda Puttappa, 1904 - 1994) is widely regarded as the greatest poet of 20th century Kannada literature. He is the first among seven recipients of Jnanpith Award for Kannada He is the second among Kannada poets to be revered as Rashtrakavi. His work Sri Ramayana Darshanam, the rewriting of the great ancient Indian epic Ramayana in modern Kannada, is regarded as revival of the era of Epic poetry in a contemporary form and charm. He is immortalized in particular for his contribution to Universal Humanism. He was conferred Padma Bhushan by Government of India.
Kuvempu produced over 30 major books in a period spanning 5 decade which includes two novels Kaanoora Heggadathi and Malegallalli Madumagalu, and many plays including Beralge Koral (based on the Ekalavya incident ), Smaashaana Kurukshetra ( The burial ground of Kurukshetra ). But the one which is the all time favorite of many is his version of the Pied piper, a beautiful poem called Bommanahalliya Kindari Jogi, the finest creation of a brilliant mind for the children adapted from the pied piper of Hamelin by Robert Browning.
Bommanahalliya Kindari Jogi
In this beautiful and imaginative adaptation of Pied Piper, Kuvempu retains almost all of the original imagery and structure; still the transformation into the Kannada cultural milieu is complete and authentic; the outlook and characteristics of the people and the narrative mode are completely localized to Kannada culture, perspective and expression.
In Kuvempu poem is pungent with increased irony, pun, humor and have the weirdness of abstraction than the original. The poem become much more pleasant, funny and agile in rendering; more narrative, and is set to highly rhythmic and free flowing verse.
The structure of the performance text derived from this poem, naturally will be that of a poetic narrative, sung and enacted by a group of singer-actors. These singers might have traveled through ages and have witnessed/ inherited the poetry from ancestors. The singers join and attach themselves to the action as and when needed, and detach subsequently; they represent the people of the village. This continuous travel from character to singer-narrator and back will give an air of informality and provide a relaxed pursuit to the spectator.
The meaning and objective of this production is basically achieved through the rendering of the characters and their depiction. Each character is delineated and represented in specific exposé so that the narrative is developed into a form that relates to the contemporary reality and time.
Gowda is a usual, inefficient village-chief interested in nothing except collecting taxes, eating and sleeping. He has a big dog to scare people who complains; and is surrounded by a group of worthless intellectuals and advisers, unable to bring about solution to any problem. In a shift from the poem, the Gowda do not offer 6000 gold coins to Jogi, as reward to killing the rats. He offered this amount to any villager to keep his people silent from complaining, and was sure that none will come with any solution. One of the villager in turn told Jogi about this announcement. In fact the village does not have that much money in hand to spare, and Gowda was positioned in between an ‘yes’ and ‘no’ to Jogi.
The Kindari Jogi character is particularly beguiling. Jogi is a performer and charmer who have immense ability to allure people. He boasts that he is the friend of lord Siva and Vishnu and has eradicated rats from Kailasa and Viakunta. And he insists that he shall get the money for his services. The space of the Jogi seems at the meeting point of the world meets with the legends, myths and fantasy; he has a link to mundane and with the imaginary. But he is alien to the rustic simplicity of the rural Bommanahalli and comes from a far away place with some odd objectives which the simpletons of the village cannot recognize. They are victims to the existing practice of the Gowda, the rat attack and later to the ploy of Jogi.
The rats are naughty and daring; they do all kinds of mischief, snatch the headgear of Gowda, and run a parallel government. They are represented with half masks, puppetry (glove, stick and hand) along with physicalisation and speak in a gibberish-rat language and/or also in Kannada. In a metamorphosis the rats throw the headgears/masks/ and puppets to the river at the end of the play, and take the role of children.
The story of the pied piper is narrated direct and simple in this transparent and candid presentation; it is attempted to create a cosmos of the exuberance, earthiness, and hurdles of the rural life where various ecosystems co-exist. The people, Gowda and his men, artist/singers, Bhattas, cat, dog, rats, river and hills coexist to form a complete and balanced universe, mutually complimenting and completing.
Towards the end of the play the people understands the pain of the lone rat and decides not to kill it. The dog understands the reasoning of the people; the lament of the lame child who lost the heaven to be left in this unhappy world reverberates to the sensitivity of the people. It is the empathy with which men and animals understand and responds reciprocally that expresses the mutuality of existence subtly but clearly.
The play is basically designed for a proscenium, but extends beyond even to the outside of the theatre in the finale scene. The actors assemble around the installation of a Jogi sculpture pronouncing that the story of Jogi happened many years before. As a tribute the Jogi story is performed every year and to end the performance they set fire to the Jogi effigy, as reminiscent in Ramleela and many other ritual performances.
The performance structure design and form is derived from many narrative forms from various living traditions. The first part is more hilarious, humorous, and slapstick; the entry of Jogi shifts into a musical narrative where the actors, sing, dance and perform the characters. Use of imaginative sets, properties and music suggest the space, characters, time, as well as the cultural/ political implications of the play.
The narrative of the play is straight, simple, and transparent that is relating to the hilarity and humor of the narration. The performance language is designed so as to give the space for creativity and the histrionic talent of the children, the whole process of rehearsal was exhilarating to the little actors; a scheme of rehearsal and play making that was more process oriented than the product.
The most important characteristic of the play was the vibrant and energetic acting of the children. Amrita Shastry (as Jogi) with her fluid movement, control and sense of rhythm with excellent singing and powerful stage presence, and Amarthya KS (as Gowda) with his vocalization, energetic and powerful rendering of dialogues supplemented with brilliant gestures coupled with proper timing excelled among the cast. Bhimu as the rat king, Arpita in different roles including the lame child and singer, Nakul as the Fat rat, Adithya Holla as the singer and as the cook, Aditi M as the old lady, Avi Hubli, Kusha Bengalooru, Yashu, and Varsha as singer/ladies, Amith as the singer and as the Jogi Gana, Snehit as the cat, Madrr as the dog, Sudhamshu as the Tablist and teacher, Anirudha, Thakkadu Bukkadu, and Achinthya as the three Bhattas, Lakshmi Thirthahalli as the child and Bali Bhadravathi as the rat man also did justice to the roles.
The rats performed by Sammu, Anu Mysore, Sathwik,, Sumedh Anantha, Gowri, Bharath Raj, Annu, and others stole the attention with vibrant acting, naughtiness and impromptu improvisation ballooned the stage and the show.The other cast included Adithya PV, Charan, Chinnu Bengalooru, Jaya Thirthalli, Kathu, Munni Bhadravathi, Chinnumari Bangaluru, Siddu, Suuru, and Varun.
Anoop S Kalarickal with the support of Jolly Antony created the atmosphere for the play with simple suggestive set, properties, and art that derived from the wide heritage of performance arts, puppetry, and traditions of miniature/floral/body painting. Gireesh Menon supplemented this fantasy/mythical world with proper lighting that added colour and brightness to the show. Music Direction done by Chandrasekhara Achar Mysore was original and apt for the play and helped the performance of the kids, with Live Percussion by Raghavendra (Tabla and Dolak) and Srinivas Sagar (Traditional Yakshaganam Chenda). Vocal support in singing was from Krupa and Malavika. The costumes by Sandhya Shivaprakash were simple but colorful that added to the spectacle of the play so as the Choreography by Sahana S Prabhu.
I am extremely happy to see that the houseful audience liked and enjoyed the play with cheerful laughter and applause in between and also with the gleeful comments after the show. Prasanna, the senior theatre person said he liked the play very much and can see the immense amount of work that has gone into this production. “The children were convincing on stage and were given the freedom on stage that makes it as a well-thought play for children. Everything came across so natural, even the elements of folk theatre used looked so natural and spontaneous.”
Prof. Anathi, senior theatre person and playwright said, “The play looked like a myth reenacted. The final scene outside Rangamandira where the effigy of Jogi was burned was a proper ending that gave the meaning and feeling of the completion of the myth and reinforced the re-enactment attribute of the story.”
Prof Raju, scholar and theatre critic commented, “The play was so contemporary and sharp with political and social implications. The Mooshikayajna scene that immediately followed the death scene of the cat was hilarious and highly political. This is not just a children’s play.”
But for me the most important comment came from Amrita Shastry who acted as Jogi and was on her first ever play on stage wrote in an e-mailto me, “I just don't have words to explain my experiences of being Kindari Jogi. It does have changed me and my lifestyle. Though I used to look bold, I was much more timid when I joined the classes. But as the time passed, the atmosphere & responsibility brought a tremendous courage in me, which made me more confident than I used to be before and these things have really changed me into a different person. So thanks to Kindari Jogi and inurn you for introducing me to myself.”
This reinforces my belief that the process is more important than the product in children’s theatre; and the nature of the product will be reflected in performance.
Thanks to KM Shivaprakash, Sandhya Shivaprakash, Honnali Chandrasekhar and all other members of MP Prakash Arts Foundation of Shimoga for inviting me, hosting and feeding us and for making this play possible.
Surely this is a memorable event in my career in theatre.