Friday, April 26, 2013

Malegalalli Madumagalu: A Review in The Hindu

My review of the play Malegalalli Madumagalu was published in the Friday Review supplement today. Read 'A Different Telling' on The Hindu website here or see below.

Instead of one sutradhar, there are different sets of Jogis, wandering minstrels who walk in from different parts of the stage to fill in the gaps for the audience. Instead of one linear plot, there are many parallel stories woven into intricate criss-cross patterns. Instead of one traditional proscenium, there are four tracts of land that recreate the villages, forests, rivers and huts of Malenadu, central Karnataka, from over a century ago. Instead of some characters, there are, reminiscent of Tolstoy’s War and Peace, many, many characters, someone’s sister, slave, wife or friend who all like and want to marry each other. It gets confusing in parts, more so if you haven’t read the 700-odd page novel. Yet there is enough romance, drama, betrayal, sacrifice, horror, humour, dance and music to hold your attention for nearly nine hours, coffee breaks included. The scale, the sheer ambition of it is what makes Malegalalli Madumagalu such an epic production in experimental theatre.

There is the ring, almost a silent leitmotif across the 50 scenes, making its appearance at crucial junctures in the storytelling to spell out a new twist, reveal another relationship or pass itself on to another set of Jogis. That is how C Basavalingaiah’s Malegalalli Madumagalu begins. Just when a group of them are about give up their tamburis into the River Tunga, for there are no audiences for their ancient stories anymore, travelling mendicants present them with a golden ring, eliciting a promise that they will tell that story to the world. One by one as the Jogis look into the circle of the ring, they see couples in love, they see religious animosity, they see the politics of the caste system. With their words and their song, they transport the audience to Megaravalli, Hulikallu, Lakkunda and Simbavi, non-descript villages in Malenadu if not for the complicated relationships that play out in the homes there.

Gutthi, the affable, a bit of a country bumpkin slave is on his way to win over Timmi, a bonded labourer in another rich man’s house. At his heels is his very lovable dog, Huliya, who doesn’t like it so much when it gets a leech in its ear in the middle of the rainforest. Along Gutthi’s way he meets the conniving Nagathe who pimps out her widowed daughter-in-law Nagakka to landlords so she can live well, beautiful Cauvery, other landlords and other slaves. Repeatedly, the play goes off on tangents to play out the lives and miseries and triumphs of these other characters.

Kuvempu’s magnum opus Malegalalli Madumagalu was adapted to stage by playwright K Y Narayanaswamy. No mean task, for the novel is a bundle of events and characters that are affected by social, religious and political changes that sweep through that region in that era. It took the maverick director C Basavalingaiah to translate it on such an ambitious scale.

Missionaries are making inroads into the villages and while those who are considering conversion are attracted to the equality and deliverance that the Christian god promises, they still won’t eat with the priest, for his origins are from an untouchable caste. Even the slave who serves him food will only drop rice from a considerable height, for the religious leader, though in white flowing robes, is still unclean. A bonded labourer is attracted to the new religion, yet shivers in fear when his wife, very cleverly, resorts to “being possessed by a spirit” to prevent their daughter being married off to a convert. No body understands the word ‘amen’, but the ‘beesekallu’ (the bicycle) that the priest rides delights them no end. The havoc that Christianity brings to traditional family structures and the struggle to reconcile its seeming liberalism with caste diktats serves for an underlying tension through the play.

Malegalalli Madumagalu is a brave production. The actors, many of them debutantes to the stage, are very good, though on opening night, there were some forgotten lines and some nervous missteps. The lighting left much to be desired and around 4 am, the narrative did begin to drag a wee bit. The sets are a treat to the eyes, but for the city skyline in the distance, they create an utterly convincing picture of a typical Malenadu landscape. Day 1 of the play had many little glitches that, hopefully, the team will iron out in the subsequent shows.

The play is on at Kalagrama till May 30, with the 9-hour performances starting at 8.30 pm on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays. Call 98400 48003 or 98865 40966. 

Images courtesy: G Suresh Kumar


Sharath G Bhat said...

Was searching for a review of Malegalalli Madumagalu and stumbled upon your blog. Good review. Skimmed through the contents of the blog. Looks like a good blog. Checked the "Thoughts That Come By" as well. That too is interesting.
Keep writing.

Deepa Bhasthi said...

Thank you Sharath.

Arun said...

Saw this review weeks after I saw the play, while I was searching for a few things about it. An apt review of the play.. they have fixed what you mentioned as the "first day's glitches" when I saw the play. It does, indeed becomes a little dragged at the 6th hour for a while, but regains its liveliness again..

I had read the novel nearly a decade ago and did not have much memory of it. Perhaps it's time to go back and relive it again after having seen the play.

Deepa Bhasthi said...

Thank you Arun.

Anonymous said...

well i have not seen any of the plays,but i have enjoyed reading the books immensly.i have read it four times

Unknown said...

This drama each scene has hidden metaphorical meaning. I am still in the process of deciphering it. Following are the my understanding of metaphors.

1. Bicycle scene. Bicycle is a metaphor for life. Lower cast people are unawareness of bicycle indicated their ignorance about life. They keep it upside down that indicates how they are leading their life. But paadri teaches them how to ride bicycle indicates paadri tries to teach them real way of leading life and another scene sarva dharma sammelana and swamy life style indicates our hindu uppercast people lost in their proud about their religion but they dont do anything to correct lowercast's life.

2. Kavery and ring scene. I understand kavery is a metaphor for kannada sanskriti(not hindu sanskriti). Giving loose ring shows that kannada not having strong political structure to protect it. Servegara indicates our own kshatriya's betrying our land by supporting external people. Attempt to marriage of kaveri to brahamin boy shows that an effort to change or mix kannada culture with hindu culture(sanskritizing kannada) which realy does not suit with kannada root culture. When priest shows wound and tells attempt of rape, mother hiding shows that hiding real betrayal.

3. Some scene padri gives rational scientific statements where our people are depending upon blind beliefs indicates because of our wrong system it gave others upper hand because of that real root culture of people starts changing. Here author is not happy with conversion but he is not criticizing christian missionary but he criticize our upper cast which built a belief system to exploit lower cast. But author is not happy with the conversion totally.

There are so many meaning we can get out this fantastic drama.

4. Muslim traders : Shows how locals ignorance got exploited and author try to tell if our upper cast people had put attempt to educate them then no external people would have entered here and bring conflict.

Pprem said...

Play was really good...Seating arrangements has to be made. They have sold many tickets but no place to sit, people are running around to get seats. Not well organized .