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When Aharyabhinaya, the extraneous representation becomes integral in Performing Arts
- Dr. Varada Pandit

September 25, 2020

'Gulabo Sitabo' is the recent film by director Shoojit Sircar that revolves around a heritage structure - the 'haveli'. The protagonist - a 76 years old landlord and multiple other characters have diverse interests in the haveli. As the film proceeds, it slowly reveals that the haveli is not just an external structure, but the director has portrayed it as a prime character. Whenever the camera focuses on the haveli, it seems that she is watching the chaos around her, sometimes with sheer amusement while sometimes feeling helpless. The very idea of portraying the haveli as a silent protagonist adds depth to the theme. The haveli is a metaphor that offers multiple interpretations on a broader canvas.

A similar theme was explored in the Marathi play 'Wada Chirebandi' by the renowned playwright Mahesh Elkunchvar. The plot was about the three generations of Deshpande family that reside in a heritage house - the 'Wada'. The wada is a witness of the ups and downs of the family and acts as a central character. The abundant wealth earned by the earlier generations of Deshpandes is used up by the later generations leading to their downfall. All that is left is the title and the ancestral house - wada. The word 'cirebandi' means that the construction is held on the stones (cira) that are arranged in such a way that the structure remains intact for ages. Ironically the wada stands strong through the passing years but the family that resides in it is on a descending journey. Wada doesn't remain only a part of the set but stands as a family member who is connected with all characters in the play.

Nepathya is a part of aharyabhinaya as explained by Bharata in his Natyasastra. It has commonly been employed to create the ambience required for the plot. The above examples are exception to this, wherein the directors have wisely played with the nepathya involving it as the integral part of the theme, thus breathing life into the still structures.

Theatre and cinema are the performing arts which portray a theme in realistic mode for which nepathya / set is an important aspect. The classical performing art Kathak is evolved as a solo form in which the dancer depicts the theme in a stylized mode. Not only the story but the related ambience, objects, characters, everything is depicted by the solo dancer through the language of gestures thus giving no scope to the sets. The aharya in solo format remains limited to costume and make-up.

During the post-independence era, choreographic presentations started taking roots in Kathak. Artistes experimented with innovative ideas in choreographies. Among those, 'Atah Kim' was choreographed by the legendary dancer-choreographer Guru Kumudini Lakhia. Atah Kim in Sanskrit means 'what now?' or 'where do I go now?' This is an eternal question faced by all human beings at some point in their lives, but an artiste faces it more intensely after every creative endeavor. 'Atah Kim' is the story of going beyond the set boundary of tradition. In this portrayal, a wooden frame was placed on the stage which indicated the threshold or the boundary. The artiste yearns to cross the boundary and explore beyond. On one hand, the wooden frame created an impact like a central character and on the other hand the realistic frame was used to explore an abstract idea.

Chaturang ki Chaupal

Today, the trend of choreography in Kathak is very well established and artistes continue to explore novel ideas. In 2018, Guru Shama Bhate presented 'Chaturang ki Chaupal', a choreography which was based on the idea of space. Chaupal is the board used in the game of dice and chaturang is a composition which includes literature, tarana (a musical form), musical notes, and dance syllables. In olden days, the dancers used to dance at various venues, sometimes even on a chauraha (a village square). Two concepts - a space similar to chauraha and the idea that a performance is like a play, led to the creation of chaupal. For this unique performance, a wooden structure of chaupal was placed on the stage which had a raised level at the center of the four sides. The dancers danced on all sides of the chaupal and on the raised level giving a multi-dimensional effect to the audience. The raga changed with each chaturang and as the performance proceeded, the game of dice came alive on stage. The pure dance performance created a visual which represented the chaupal as the central theme, with ragas as players and dancers as dices.

The ancient aharyabhinaya is the fully developed stagecraft of contemporary times which is facilitated by latest technology. Indian cinema and theatre make utmost use of stagecraft but the classical dance tradition employed it since recent past. There were times when senior dancers were not comfortable with the use of coloured lights and would prefer the stage illuminated with general lights. They thought it was an unnecessary display of technology. Compared to the past, Kathak has travelled far ahead embracing technology to enhance the performance.

The experiments in the three different performing arts indicate towards the creative genius of the artistes that have offered an added dimension to the presentations. The aspect which is limited only as an extraneous part of drama has been creatively used as the integral part of the theme.

Dr. Varada Pandit, a Ph. D Kathak from Mumbai University, is Creative Director at Nrityarang School of Kathak, Borivali, Mumbai.

Excellent!! The best thing I felt is that it is in a  simple language where a student, teacher, expert, anybody can relate to. Please do keep writing on different topics.
- Unkown (Sept 26, 2020)

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