Mruchchakatika: A drama par excellence
- Shubha Subbarao
Photos courtesy: Soorya Dance Company

November 6, 2012

The Mahatma Gandhi Center Auditorium in St. Louis, Missouri, filled with artistic fervor as the cast gathered to perform ‘Mruchchakatika,’ one of the best literary works from India, from September 13-15, 2012.

Mruchchakatika, translated as the ‘Little Clay Cart’ is a Sanskrit drama written by Sudraka and is known to be an outstanding play on several counts. It excels in characterization in comparison to any outstanding dramas of either the East or the West. Written sometime between the 3rd and 5th century AD, much before any of the well-known poets or playwrights such as Kalidasa or Shakespeare, it stands high on the basis of its theatrical strength. It digs through the persona of different strata of society and portrays the social complexities of the times. The characters in the play are considered as the “citizens of the world.” One can easily find and identify such people living in any geography at any time, which confers the greatness to the play written so long ago.

The plot unravels in the ancient city of Ujjain in India, around a triangular love story of three people namely Charudatta, the hero, the merchant, who has lost all his wealth due to his extreme charitable nature and kindness; Vasanthasena, the heroine, a beautiful courtesan, who has fallen for the good heart of Charudatta; and Sansthanaka (also known as Shakara), a person who seeks the love of the heroine, and who after being rejected, turns into a villain. Interspersed in the play, one can enjoy the humor generated by the jester Maitreya, a close aide of Charudatta. The dance drama does full justice to the story line keeping the time constraints of the modern days. It is said the complete script of Mruchchakatika needs atleast 6 – 8 hours of production.

The director, Guru Prasanna Kasthuri, has done a tremendous job of balancing drama, dance and singing in the production. The play started with a traditional Poorvaranga, an invocation of the gods. As per the Natya Shastra, the Poorvaranga had prayers to the deities representing the eight cardinal directions and later to the god of dance, Nataraja. The dancers established a celestial protection weapon “Jarjara” that marked the start of the production. As Sutradhar (narrator), Gopinath Joshi did a neat job of introducing the production. Although the play seems to start off on a calm note, with the introduction of Pulikeshi Kasthuri as Shakara and Murthy as Maitreya, the audience gets worked into laughter. The performance of students in the rain dance was impressive. Samanvita and Shri Nivedita, dance with their little carts and bring out the symbolism of the Mruchchakatika production. The plot involving the murder of the courtesan brought in the element of suspense and seriousness to the play. Nagendra portrayed the role of charioteer effectively while the heroine Shwetha excelled in expression. It was in the last scene that Prasanna’s strength of dance, theatre and music came together in a strong portrayal of Charudatta and his miserable situation. The two and a half hour long production stayed crisp all along in its rendition of the storyline.

The main attraction of the show was Sathya Narayana Murthy, who played the role of Maitreya and stole the show with his mimics and facial expressions. Shalini, Annuja, Shubhi, Chinmayi and Keertana of Soorya Dance Company supported the production with their marvelous dancing as also with their role plays as different characters of the play, by changing in and out of costumes and roles effectively. The dialogues by Prabhakar Betnag, Gopinath Joshi and Nagendra Sanjeeva were crystal clear. The fitting props of the chariots drawn by horses, the mansion architecture with the walls and doors added effectively to the visualization of the storyline. Costumes were appropriate to suit the characters and the time period of the play.

Actors such as Vinod, Mihir, Rakesh and Vasantha Murthy added special flavor to the production with their natural talents. Lyrics and music by Prasanna Kasthuri was captivating and deserves recognition for making this production a great experience. Seema Murthy Kasthuri as the lead singer was supported by an orchestra of musicians from India enhancing the musical experience. Ramesh Ramalingappa’s tabla and mridangam accompaniment and Jayaprakash Kannur’s support on the flute completed the ensemble. Ganesh Kumar’s violin added subtle melodies and special effects during the dramatic scenes and complemented the rest of the musicians.

Mruchchakatika was successfully produced in Kannada and in English and catered to a wide spectrum of audience in the Midwest, touring Atlanta, Cincinnati, Chicago and also bringing its production to the home base in Saint Louis. After its tour in the Midwest, Soorya Performing Arts was invited to perform the dance drama in Los Angeles towards the end of September. The play enthralled people of all ages with its captivating storyline that included love, deceit, suspense, theft, fights, ending with a message that justice is served and that righteousness wins ultimately.This major artistic production, including the three shows in St. Louis was supported by the funds of Missouri Arts Council (MAC), Regional Arts Commission (RAC),, Enopi of Greater Saint Louis and USA Mortgage.

Shubha Subbarao, an author, dance patron, community volunteer, has written  books in English on different cultural topics of India.