“Is it possible to look at a situation with several points of view? Bali the play had its genesis then, and was an enthralling 90 minutes experience,” writes Arun Bhatia.
As big an attraction at Ranga Shankara’s bonhomie and theatre experience is the café that has its signature dish sabudana vada. I had gone to the Saturday afternoon show of Bali, theatre group Adishakti’s latest offering, and the café said I’d have to wait till after the show. Sabudana vada are made fresh only at 4 p.m. I opted for the kokum juice (another of the café’s exclusive fare!) before I took my seat for the 3:30 p.m. show.
Director Nimmy Raphel loves epics and mythology, has questioned divinity in her earlier work Nidravatham about Kumbhkarna and Lakshman. In Bali, she has picked another minor character in Ramayana. She asks if we have the capacity to look at issues from all angles, and explores our notions of what is right and wrong.
She has directed the talented cast to show the perspectives of Ram, Sugreeva, Angada, Tara and Ravan. The play opened spot lighting on the rippling muscles of Kishkindha ruler Bali. It went on to give an unusual interpretation of Bali’s killing by Lord Ram.
The set was bare, and rightly so, as this was an intense theatre experience, with elements of Kalariyapathu. There were tableaus, of Ramayana’s characters, and since the stories would be known by the audience, there was no attempt at a linear narrative.
90 minutes of absorbing drama, lines and songs delivered in English and even Marathi and with each scene focused on one minor Ramayana character’s viewpoint brought up varying notions of what is right and wrong. The vivacity of the performers, including monkey-like leaps and hoops and even a sort of wriggling belly dance by a portly performer kept the audience entranced. Actual Kalatiyapatthu would be too much to do on such a stage of course, but by initial moves and stance of this martial arts form, and then some clever lighting, the dwandwa yuddha (wrestling) was conveyed to great effect. Some scenes were deliberately slapstick, to lighten up for a bit.
Tara asked why Bali had to be killed. And Ram, the character replied that the purpose was to bring Sita back. The purpose was not served, as there was no life with Sita afterward. Waging of the war had been futile. And Ram asked that he not be seen as God but as a human being, with all his faults.
At Adishakti, there had been several years of engaging with Ramayana, and a lot of reading and discussion. Is there such a thing as an objective point of view? Is it possible to look at a situation with several points of view? Bali the play had its genesis then, and was an enthralling 90 minutes experience.
There were three more shows scheduled at Ranga Shankara, and I considered buying a ticket for the very next show, to see it once more, back to back, to catch more of the nuances.
After a standing ovation and curtains, I stood in line at the café for those delicious sabudana vadas. Even the chatni that goes with them is exclusive. Their herb toast is recommended with masala tea. I finally did not buy the ticket for the next show. It would have been too much of a good thing considering I was already satiated with food for thought and food for the tummy.
Arun Bhatia is a resident of Bengaluru and an avid reader, writer, and photographer. He has also modeled in TV commercials.