Posts Tagged Sujit Saraf

Mahabharat – NAATAK Play Review


Image may contain: 1 person, dancingThe story of Mahabharat has been repeated among Indians, over and over in various ways, even via TV series. Why would you bring it on stage, and why say it again, and how could you say it better or do greater justice to one of the two major Sanskrit epics of ancient India, also known as the longest epic poem ever written? Therein lies the brilliance of Sujit Saraf who adapted it for the stage for NAATAK and is currently playing at Cubberley Theater in Palo Alto.

Image may contain: 6 people, people smiling, people standing and weddingThe Mahabharat, believed to be written by Vyasa, is a narrative of the Kurukshetra war, a deadly war among cousins, sparked by greed and fueled by lies, cheating, deceit, turncoats, and perhaps misplaced assumptions of right and wrong, good and evil. With Mahabharat being recited several times in history, with details and stories added or deleted and with the epic employing “story within a story structure” known as framelets, it is a mind-bogglingly complex story to tell, described by Hermann Oldenberg as a “horrible chaos”.

It is to great credit that NAATAK’s team, with director Saraf, producer Soumya Agastya, music director Nachiketa Yakkundi, choreographers, sets team and many volunteers and a huge cast of performers managed to bring this story on stage; not just to tell but in the form of the musical, with awesome dances and music, focusing on key dialogues and stories and with recreating the most impactful stories befitting the grandeur of the time, without overdoing any of it.

Image may contain: 5 people, people standingSticking to the core of the epic, NAATAK’s Mahabharat traces the story of Kaurava and Pandava from Brahma, the Hindu God of creation and through their earliest ancestors known to us (Yayati, Dushyant, Shakuntala, Ganga, Shantanu, Nishad, Chitraghandha, Veechitravirya,  Dhritrashtra, Pandu, Kunti, Gandhari and more) and brings us to the center of their conflict. When Shantanu was seeking to marry Satyavati (whose father Nishad had misgivings since her sons would not inherit the throne) Shantanu’s first born son, Bhishma made a strongest vow known to humankind, to never have children, never marry and never inherit the throne. But his step mother Satyvati’s two sons Chitrangadha and Vichitravirya died leaving behind no issues. Satyvati then asked her illegitimate son Vyasa to father children with Vichitravirya’s widows, in order to get heirs for the throne. Thus were born blind, Dhritrashtra and weak and sickly, Pandu. Vyasa also fathered a son with a maid servant, Vidur. Dhritrashtra with his wife Gandhari, fathered 100 sons who came to be known as Kauravas. Pandu, with Kunti and Madri fathered 5 sons, who came to be known as Pandavas.  

In the greed and evil plots of the Kauravas, under the helm of the eldest brothers Duryodhan and Dushasan, and in their maternal uncle Shakuni’s evil machinations and in the gambling addiction of the righteous and truthful but incurable gambling addict, elder Pandava brother, Yudhishthir lies the seeds of the epic war in Bharat, which ended in Kali Yug.Image may contain: 4 people, people smiling

Image may contain: 10 people, people smiling, people standingImage may contain: 1 person, standing and childNAATAK’s Mahabharat takes us through all the main plots and sub plots, major twists and turns (Guru Dron asking Eklavya to cut his thumb and give it as Guru Dakshina so that no one can contest his disciple Arjun; Kaurava’s plot to kill the cousins after hosting them in a palace of flammable materials and how they managed to survive; Draupadi’s wedding to the most able warrior; Kunti asking all brothers to share whatever they had brought and thus Draupadi came to be shared between the 5 Pandava brothers; Pandava’s loss of everything in gambling and Yudhishsthir putting his wife on the line and losing her; Kaurava’s attempt to disrobe and humiliate her and Krishna coming to her rescue; Pandava’s 13 years of vanvas; Kaurava’s adamant refusal to give them the smallest piece of land; and the war that was as inevitable as it was extensive and drew in all the surrounding kingdoms. Arjuna had a moment of remorse and refuses to fight his brothers on the other side and received updesh in the form of Geeta, from his charioteer, Krishna. The bloodiest war of the time soon descended into dishonourable tactics on both sides (where Arjuna’s young son is sent into a Chakravyuh though he only knew his way in and not out; Bhisma is mortally wounded when Pandavas use his principle to not pick up weapons against a woman and send in Shikhandi who is half woman, half man — all this and more). Image may contain: 1 personBhima the strongest of the five Pandavas killed all 100 Kaurava brothers that evoked heart-rending cries of soulful mourning, followed by a curse, from Gandhari, the grief-stricken mother.

Mahabharat is overwhelmingly a story of men with women existing on the periphery; (consider the fact that among 100 Kaurava sons, there is no mention of a daughter) in tracing the entire ancestry, daughters are rarely mentioned. But it is women who experience and display raw emotions other than anger. It is Gandhari whose soulful tears at the loss of all her sons pierce one’s heart; it is Draupadi who suffers the humiliation in open court of men when her husband loses her in gambling; and it is Kunti who dutifully gives up her life in the palace to follow her husband to live in the forest.

Image may contain: 6 people, people dancing, child, outdoor and nature

In Mahabharat, NAATAK takes the audience through this spellbinding journey.  With excellent staging, sound and awesome performance, it transports the audience to another era and retains the spell to the very end. In fact, the dialog at the end is most amazingly brilliant, distilling the essence of this epic event, a dark time brought by flawed humans and a tale of cruelty and sadness, thwarted ambition and greed, amidst small acts of courage and kindness. I loved the fact that this gripping tale is not told yet again from a traditional, routine, religious perspective but from the perspective of a historical event, values of the time, moral subtlety and ambiguity and human flaws. This incredible performance by NAATAK above all speaks to incredible and undisputed brilliance of Sujit Saraf.

Image may contain: 1 person, sitting and dancingI haven’t seen but I have heard that during the airing of the TV series, some people were inspired to perform pujas and garland the TV before airing of each episode. NAATAK’s performance will likely inspire the audience to find entertainment and perhaps engage in quiet reflection about values, principles, and moral code of ethics.  This is a not-to-miss show of this theater season in the bay area. It retains the original flavor with Hindi dialogues but English supertitles are projected on the screen above. Tickets can be obtained at www.naatak.org .
PS: Thank you Kyle for Pictures by kyleadlerphotography

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Toba Tek Singh: Play Review (naatak.com)


Toba Tek Singh is yet another example of NAATAK company’s efforts to bring bold and audacious plays in Indian languages or with Indian theme, on stage.  Very special credits for this amazing production go to brilliant director Sujit Saraf who adapted the original story for stage, to brilliant producer who wears multiple hats, Soumya Agastya and to brilliant music director, Nachiketa Yakkundi. Based off of the original story written by Saadat Hasan Manto, Toba Tek Singh focuses on exchange of inmates in a Lahore asylum, after the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947. The ensuing conflict between India and Pakistan displaced nearly 15 million people and nearly 1 million people died during the migration, leaving behind a bloody legacy. The story of Toba Tek Singh is not only a powerful satire on the events that transpired in the aftermath of the violent division but when observed through the eyes of a madman, one can’t help but feel that he was the only sane person questioning the ridiculousness of the entire situation, in a sea of complete and utter lunacy.

Image may contain: 10 people, people smiling, people standingPerformed with live music and phenomenal dances by women in colorful costumes, the lunacy of the bloody events feels even more stark. Toba Tek Singh is the largest production in Naatak’s 22 year history.  It is amazing and delightful to see the huge entire cast perform their roles flawlessly. But it is the live musicians, under the leadership of Yakkundi and amazing dancers under the leadership of choreographers, Shaira Bhan and Snigdha Singh that this special story was transformed into a grand musical.

Image result for partition, india, pakistan
When the British
left India divided and splintered, clear borders were not announced until after the division, throwing millions of people into chaos and confusion. In an immediate aftermath, there began one of the greatest migrations in human history, as millions of Hindus and Sikhs began the trek towards India and millions of Muslims in the opposite direction towards Pakistan in the West and East. While millions and millions were displaced and left homeless, nearly a million never made it as people were massacred during migration, some were abducted and many were raped, forced into sexual slavery, and left disfigured and dismembered. But lunetics housed in the mental asylums were safe from this madness.

Image may contain: 3 people, people sittingThe story of Toba Tek Singh begins in 1948, a year after the partition, when the governments of India and Pakistan decide that the lunatics living in the mental asylums must also be exchanged so that Muslim lunatics in India may be sent to Pakistan, while Hindu and Sikh lunatics in Pakistan may be sent to India.  One of the lunatics is a Sikh inmate named Bishan Singh who is to be sent under police escort to India from Lahore. Bishan Singh wants to remain in a country where his home village Toba Tek Singh remains and he asks several people where Toba Tek Singh is.  He is alternately told it is in India and then told it is in Pakistan. When he finally believes that his hometown Toba Tek Singh will be part of the new Pakistan, he refuses to go to India and lies down right in the middle, in the no man’s land.

When you watch the play, you somehow feel that Bishan Singh is the only man true to his feelings, unlike Naidu or Jinnah or Gandhi or Nehru or Mountbatten or Edwina or Godse who are all caught up in their own self serving versions and visions of the event.  Each one of the other characters use multiple tactics and strategies, plot and craft to manipulate and maneuver the events to fit their vision. Bishan Singh simply wants to live in a place he has known as home because home is where the heart is and to get uprooted from homeland is like getting  your heart ripped out.

Toba Tek Singh will be running in Woodside, CA till July 29, 2017. Get your tickets at www.naatak.com .

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Vande Mataram – Play Review


Flag adopted by the Indian National Congress i...

Flag adopted by the Indian National Congress in 1931. First hoisted on 1931-10-31 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Let me take you back to the year, 1942”, thus begins the play, taking the audience back to August 8, 1942, the day when Gandhi launched the “Quit India” movement, against the British.  Based on real events, the story of Keezhariyur Bomb Case in Malabar, Kerala is adapted for stage by brilliant playwright and director, Sujit Saraf and produced by Gopi Rangan.

 

India, in 1942, was a diverse nation, divided by languages, dialects, caste, class, religion, and loyalties, and divided by the lack of infrastructure, in the analog age.  India’s struggle to rid itself of the colonialism has to be as complex and multifaceted, as its people.  It is even a marvel that Gandhiji managed to unite the nation and helped achieve India’s independence, spearheading the struggle under the banner of non-violence.  But there were various rebel groups and leaders, with their own brand of nationalism, their own value system, their own worldview, and their own interest in future independence of India, that resulted in multitude of little struggles.  Some of these ended in small scale violence, only to ignite a sizeable imperialistic response, some puttered and fizzled out, some joined forces with others, and eventually most gave their support to Gadhi’s non-violent struggle for independence.

 

The characters of this play, tell the story of one group of Indian rebels, in the 1940s, in the backward state of Bihar (at the time), and the superb cast makes them truly memorable.  Led by a Colorado trained professor, brilliantly played by Salil Singh, a small group of rebels discuss the plan to shake up the Brits, with some strategic bomb blasts.  Sujit Saraf, in the role of a renegade Congressman, is equally superb, as he straddles the issue between allegiance to Gandhi’s perspectives and participation in the Professor’s activist stance.  Mukund Marathe and Amol Deshmane, in the role of two brothers at odds with each other, coming together to finance the rebel project, are also fantastic.  Their participation in the project, heals their earlier wounds and they are both in agreement that that their businesses not suffer any harm on account of their participation in this project.  Surender Singh, also fantastic, in the role of the restaurantor, provides the space for the project.  Soumya Chakravorty, plays the role of Banwari, recruited to build and detonate the bombs.  Banwari refuses to work alongside Muslims, he is in equal measure prejudiced, fanatic, stupid, and a victim of his circumstances, who looses his land to land owners but feels compelled to do something, against injustice.  Chakravorty is absolutely brilliant in this role.

 

This group of individuals could not be more different, in terms of their interests and affiliations, their cynicism, idealism, and ambition, and are coming together and uniting in one cause, independence of the nation.  Will this group, so flimsily connected, stay true to the cause and hold together or will it fall apart by betrayal, stupidity, or other self-interests?  Irrespective of whether they will succeed or fail, this is a fantastic play about human endeavors to be free, at the very basic level.  It is a play that brings out the complexity inherent in the task of nation building.  Saraf moved the story to Bihar (from the real life incident, that took place in Kerala), so that it can be produced in Hindi.  Eventual language is a beautiful mix of Hindi, Bhojpuri, and Marwari.  Excellent set design is by Siva Kollipara.  Vineeta Singh and crew have done great job in set building.  Sowmya Ballakur has provided supertitles, so the play can be enjoyed by non-Hindi speaking audience members as well.   And once again, I will say the entire cast is brilliant and the acting is flawless.

 

Vande Mataram is playing to sold out audiences.  Book your tickets early.  For registration, go to www.naatak.com .

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