By Tejaswi Subramanian
I reached the venue, ‘Shoonya’, later than I had intended, to watch Nagamandala. Although I had read in its description on Facebook that it was a Girish Karnad play adapted to Puthenchira village in Kerala, I didn’t realise that the play was going to be in Malayalam. So after thanking the woman at the door for letting me in despite being half an hour late, I was quite surprised to hear Malayalam, and even more surprised that I followed the language so well!
Personal stories aside, this was a fantastic performance by KathaSiyah. The stage had been lit up with ‘kuthuvilakkus’ (brass lamps) that lent the setting an ethereal and old-world charm. The use of props like nitrogen ice to denote a steaming ‘kutaan’ (gravy) and what looked like an unwound red rope with ghungroo-bells for a snake seemed novel to me, and were used expertly by the actors. The sound design set the mood of every act, and the lighting danced with the scenes in great harmony. In short, the performance was a true delight to watch.
Nagamandala is the story of Rani—a young, abused wife who wants to charm her neglectful husband. She meets the eccentric outcast Kuridiamma, who gives her a love potion and instructs Rani to mix it in her husband’s dinner, promising that it would entice him to her. However, on the night of the fateful dinner, Rani drops some of the kutaan on a snake hill, which is home to a ‘Raja-pambu’, who becomes smitten with her. What follows is a Dr. Jekyll/Mr.Hyde-esque story of trickery, lust and infidelity, and a reflection on the social fabric that preserves institutions like marriage only its image, but hardly interferes in ensuring its true form and function.
The body work, especially that of the leads—Ajith Lal and Ashwani—was a sight to behold. Their chemistry led to seamless performances of the intimate moments, and Ajith’s performance in a dual-esque role was simply superb as he effortlessly switched his gait and style to suit the character.
The crew that played the magical creatures and village-folk were the secret ingredient that made the stage come alive. It helped the group use Shoonya’s generous space in a clever way, with the floor seating for the audience really pulling everyone into the drama that was unfolding, and giving it the appeal of a community performance around a bonfire.
I’m excited for KathaSiyah’s next performance—this is a theatre group to watch out for!
KathaSiyah is a Bengaluru-based theatre group formed by Karen D’Mello and Sunayana Premchander in 2015. D’Mello is a theatre director and facilitator, and a lot of her work draws from the lived experiences of women. Premchander is a theatre director and playwright from Bengaluru whose work attempts to study the intricacies of society and individuals. KathaSiyah’s vision is to tell stories with perspectives and narratives that are not included in mainstream discourse and don’t always make it to centre stage. Their work is rooted in contemporary Indian politics and social debates, and grounded in research, while engaging rigorously with other performing arts. KathaSiyah works primarily with young emerging artists and works in multiple languages with audiences ranging across the socio-economic spectrum.
Their previous works include Taramandal (Hindi and English) Gidagiduga (Kannada) and 3 (English). In early 2016, it was registered as a trust and is now recognised under sections 12A and 80 G of the Income Tax Department.
KathaSiyah is currently touring with Nagamandala. The performance at Shoonya in Bengaluru is the second set of shows after opening in Ranga Shankara (also Bengaluru) on May 23, 2018.
Tejaswi Subramanian is a senior sub editor at Qrius.
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