Shabd Leela – The Interplay of Words / Manohar Khushalani

Shabd Lila by Ila Arun

Text of The Review by Manohar Khushalani Published in IIC Diary

Directed by K K Raina, conceived, scripted and narrated in Hindi by Ila Arun, ‘Shabd Leela’ is a partially dramatized reading of the script, which contains selected extracts from the works of the well-known poet and playwright Dr. Dharamvir Bharti. Picking up prose from his works, such as, ‘Kanupriya’,‘Ek Sahityik Ke Prem Patra’ and ‘Andha Yug’,  Ila Arun created a biographical sketch of Bharti, focusing on his relationship with two women. Trying to see a resonance from Krishna’s life, wherein, even though Rukmani was his wife, yet, only Radha’s name is linked with Krishna and taken together with his. Ila justifies Dharamvir’s simultaneous dalliance with his first wife, Kanta Bharti and Pushpa Bharti, his paramour, who became his spouse in an informal unconventional ceremony. The three, Dharamvir Kanta and Pushpa, took a vow on the banks of Ganges, that they will always be inseparable.  That is why the unconventional consensual bigamous wedlock had a certain mystical piety about it. Yet, in the construction of the play, Kanta, his first wife, and the third arm of the triangle, was largely ignored.

Ila took up the role of the ‘Sutradhar’, allowing Raina to dramatize the play, unsuccessfully though, because the blocking had a static quality about it. A symmetrical set consisting of two desks on either side of the stage and a covered bench in the middle added to the monotony.

However, the visuals projected on the cyclorama were really beautiful and carefully chosen by the Director to enhance the beauty of the poems. The script was well crafted, interspersing quotes from the letters, poetry and drama, with Ila’s own critique about them. Actors Rajeswari Sachdev, Varun Badola and all the others read out the pedantic Hindi verses and prose with well punctuated, clearly pronounced dialogue delivery.

The finale of the play was a performance of Andhayug. It highlights the last day of the Mahabharata war, when Kurukshetra was covered with corpses, the ramparts were in ruins, the city was in flames, while vultures hovered menacingly above. The few hapless survivors of the defeated Kauravas were overcome with grief and rage.  Written immediately after the partition of the India, the play is a profound commentary on the politics of violence. True, Andhayug showcases Bharti’s versatility as a writer craftsman, but, the conclusion appeared to be a departure from the overall theme of the enactment of a complex relationship between three creative and sensitive souls.

Despite everything, the pristine beauty of Bharti’s Shabd Leela is what remains with you after the performance

Let the whole world know that Radha;
was not merely a note in your Song-
Radha was The Melody, The Music;
I have come to you my Dearest!
You who weaved fiery blossoms into my tresses!
Tarry not anymore;
To weave meaning into History!


Dr. B M Shrikantaiah’s ASHWATTHAMAN Director: Jagadeesh R.

Playwright: Dr. B M Shrikantaiah

Director: Jagadeesh R.

Group: Sri Shivakumara Rangaprayoga, Chitradurga

Language: Kannada

Duration: 1 hr 30 mins

The Play

This play is said to be the first poetic play in Kannada. In this play Ashwatthama, an immortal hero from Mahabharata, is transformed by the author to enable him to meet his tragic end. The play breaks from the traditional image of Ashwatthama as one blessed with the gift of immortality. Aswatthama in the Mahabharata is a bachelor while in the play he is married and has a son called Rudrashakti. Ashwatthama attempts to avenge the death of his father (who had been deceitfully killed by the Pandavas) by attacking them at night. However, he ends up killing their young children and is so embarrassed that he takes his own life.

Director’s Note

Ashwatthaman throws light on how fate plays a vital role in the life of a powerful warrior and an honest human being named Ashwatthama, his character, personality, and his relationship with his father and guru Dronacharya. This adaptation of Sophocles’ Ajax into Kannada by B M Shri is a wonderful attempt of blending the story of Ashwatthama with the famous Greek tragedy. Being a theatre practitioner I have attempted to bring this play on stage to express my views on war.  A civilization evolves with the belief in harmony with everything around it. But in war, killing other people must somehow become acceptable–morally, legally and psychologically. One way to conceive this is to imagine that the enemy is a non-human entity. Ashwatthaman, in B M Shri’s haunting adaptation of Sophocles’ Ajax, comments on the hero’s crazed attempt to massacre his own comrades-in-arms, and is a metaphorical interpretation of the cruelty of war, an ongoing phenomenon from the mythological world to the contemporary world. This play is an attempt to make one realise how war is the wicked output of the human race and a paradox to the concept of civilization.

The Director

Jagadeesh. R graduated in Design and Direction from National School of Drama, New Delhi in 2013. He is also a sculptor and a musician. He won the state award for theatre music in 2006. He visited the 2nd Asian Theatre Festival at Beijing, China & NAPA (National Academy of Performing Arts) International Theatre Festival at Karachi, Pakistan. Currently he is working as the Director at Sri Shivakumara Rangaprayoga Shale, Sanehalli, Karnataka.

The Playwright

Belluru Mylaraiah Srikantaiah, known popularly as B. M. Shri, was an Indian author, writer and translator of Kannada literature. He was awarded the Rajasevasakta Award by the Maharaja of Mysore. He was the president of the Kannada Sahithya Sammelana in 1938 at Gulburga. B M Sri Circle, a circle in Bangalore, has been named after him.

The Group

Sri Shivakumara Rangaprayoga Shale is a residential theatre school established in 2008. The course is backed by 25 years of experience of Kalashangha and 15 years of the Shivasanchara Theatre repertory. This school is designed in the Gurukula system, with a broad syllabus adapted from the best theatre institutions of the country.

Cast & Credits

Ashwatthama: Chetan Dharwad

Krishna : Pinjar Aashif

Rudra: Prasanna Chalawadi

Bhargavi: Anupallavi G

Rudrashakti: Basavaraj

Draupadi: Sangeetha D M

Duryodhana: Varun Gowda K L

Eklavya: Vinayak Suresh Kalal

Bheema: Hanumantha

Messenger: Harish Kumar T

Chorus: Boregowda, Thippeswamy R Sarvesha, Niranjan Rao Pawar, Rajkumar, Dilip Kumar, Priyanka Somanatha, Shashank H M, Yashas Nagaraj Srivatsa

Light Design: Vinod Laxman Bhandari

Make-up: Kiran T C

Singer: Jagadeesh R

Percussion: Prakash Badiger, Raju L, Madhu E

Playwright: Dr. B M Shrikantaiah

Director: Jagadeesh R.