Eevalajjiyoo Adamajjanoo: My Thoughts

(Originally posted in Daijiworld)

Artistic exploration of feminism has been an integral part of modern theatre. The way with which half of the human population was compelled to lead a subservient life is a tragic story that has its roots in the origin of mankind. Feminist thinkers have always stood for freedom, choices, bodily integrity, gender equality and rights of women. Many plays have delved in to this area to search answers for the questions raised by these feminist ideologists. Feminism has enriched the modern theatre with its revolutionary thoughts and in return the theatre has given momentum to feminist movement throughout the world.

Play is essentially an art form that can exist without the need of an ideology. Various thought processes have certainly shaped theatre, but at the end of the day a play works only on its own artistic merits. The ideology, social relevance, intellectual discourses and the political leniency associated with the play are irrelevant if the play fails to achieve its goal i.e to strike a chord with the audience. These were some of the thoughts that were running in my mind when I watched the Kannada Play “Eevalajjiyoo Adamajjanoo” (Grandma Eve and Grandpa Adam) directed by Viddu Uchil on 20th April 2014.IMG_7306

“Eevalajjiyoo Adamajjanoo”, written by Mohana Chandra U around three decades back, is a feminist play that raises fundamental questions about human society. This One act play is a Russian roulette of words between Purusha (Man) and Prakruthi (Nature). These are the only two characters in this 70minutes long play. An air catastrophe throws Purusha in to a deserted island. He meets a woman on that island and finds out that she is also a survivor from another disaster. This chance meeting initiates a war of words between them. The ensuing debate explores the place of women in modern society. Prakruthi is a personification of women who have been suppressed by men for centuries. She seeks answers for the atrocities against women, caused by men in the name of culture, customs, religion, politics and everything. The godforsaken island, which is devoid of basic necessities, acts as a rough terrain on which she intends to have an equal fight with her male counterpart.

IMG_7303Purusha represents men who have deceitfully exploited women to satisfy their needs and to capture power. His authoritarian tone, cunningness and chauvinism are nothing but the result of his patriarchal mindset. He wants to ‘own’ Prakruthi and enslave her just the way the world has treated women since days immemorial. But this island is no ordinary place. Everyday is a struggle here. Death is looming in the shape of rain, wild animals, darkness and hunger. A man, unlike woman, is not equipped to adapt to such hostility. It is suggested in the play that a constant oppression has made women strong enough to face any drastic changes in life. When a man and a woman are pushed to such harsh environment, man comes out as spineless. His aggression, superiority complex and pre-occupied notions about womanhood fall flat on earth and he witnesses an inherent power in woman to lead a self-reliable life completely independent of him. This revelation dismisses Purusha’s equally vigorous arguments and shatters his thought process. His efforts to defend his “right” go in vain as Prakruthi rejects the idea that man is needed for a woman to lead life. She dismisses the place of a father by saying that he is mere a mode of convenience for birth. In the process, she asks an interesting question: “When is your birthday? Is it the day you come out of mother’s womb or is it the day when you are conceived?”

We see a strong woman in Prakruthi; and in spite of all the efforts to prove his sexist points, Purusha turns out to be an aggressive, opportunist and at the end an escapist character. Prakruthi raises children and grows as an independent human being, while Purusha, as accused by his female counterpart, proves that men do not consider women to complete men.

As I mentioned earlier, this play was written 30 years ago. True to its time, the play is rhetoric of feminist ideas. The playwright has used all the clichés that one can find in a popular feminist literature. Subtlety is not what you will find here. The protagonists shout out their anger, hostility and resentments in every single line. The constant frustration of the characters to prove their points sometime comes out as sloganeering. Minimalist premise compels two characters to engage in heated discussion to keep the play moving. The idea of stripping man and woman of their history and placing them in a courtroom of sort is indeed very interesting. The playwright gives them some thought-provoking lines to mouth. But the play struggles to rise above the sense of bitterness with which it started. Even though there are attempts made to contemporize this particular play, some of the dialogues come out as contrived. Nevertheless, the strong undercurrent of modernism makes this play an interesting piece of art.IMG_7296

Viddu, an alumnus of Rangayana, has very successfully transformed this play in to a visual experience. Along with directing this One Act play he has also portrayed the leading character. He oozes life in to the character of Purusha, as he goes through existential crises. Once an arrogant and a dominant alpha-man, Purusha eventually becomes submissive, rather reluctantly. He is torn between going back to his life and staying with Prakrathi. Viddu showcases his dilemma quite successfully with his expressions, gestures and dialogues. Manjula Subrahmanya as Prakruthi is a revelation. A trained dancer herself, she uses expressions to assert the dominance of her character in the play. She develops the character of Prakruthi as an answer to age old oppression. The way she portrays that character is commendable. The set design is minimalist. The giant mushroom in the backdrop might remind the audience of the genesis chapter, where Adam and Eve have their origins. It also highlights the gloomy environment of the deserted island and instantly takes audience in to the middle of the intense drama. Music and sound have been designed by Rohan S Uchil and Suresh Balila. They have handled it decently well. Light design by Praveen Bajal is minimalist and it sets the mood of the drama.

Viddu Uchil’s ‘Journey Theatre’ deserves applause for the production of this play. Mangalore and the coastal region have not been very active in terms of serious theatre works. There is a necessity to build an intellectual audience group who can rise above the farce and situational comedies that are prevailing in the theatre arena and appreciate more serious plays. Eevalajjiyu Adamajjanu is indeed a step in the right direction.IMG_7305

Play:                      Eevalajjiyoo Adamajjanoo (Kannada)

Playwright:             Mohana Chandra U

Director:                 Viddu Uchil

Dramatispersonæ:

Viddu Uchil (as Purusha)

Manjula Subrahmanya (as Prakruthi)

Music:                      Rohan S Uchil and Suresh Balila

Light:                        Praveen Bajal

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Hayachine Kagura

Few months  back I had a chance to know about this performing art of Japan from Prof. Sumio Murijiri, who is a Fellow of Tokyo Foundation and a project scholar of Waseda University, Theater Museum, Tokyo. He is also a visiting professor of Mangalore University. His research focuses on the comparative study of Hayachine kagura ( A performing art in Japan) and Yakshagana (A folk and semi-classical performing art of coastal Karnataka).

I was working for visual media and my work during that time was to carry out research about art and culture of coastal Karnataka for television programs. I approached the professor to know about his research and to take get a sense of his analysis of Tulu culture. During our talks the professor told me about Hayachine Kagura. He showed me the photographs and videos of this art. He gave me an article written by him about the similarities between these two art forms. It was interesting to know about two art forms which are centuries old and are geographically separated by thousands of miles to have some striking similarities between them.

Hayachine kagura

Hayachine kagura

yakshagana

Yakshagana

In Japanese language, Hayachina means ‘sacred mountain’. As we know most of the Japanese relegions give a great importance to the mountains. For them these mountains are life and God. There are many villages in the foothills of these mountains following the age-old traditions of Japan.These villages are isolated from the modern towns which makes them sustain their traditional lifestyle like they do. There are many Kaguras still existing in these mountains, Hayachine kagura being one among them.

Hayachine Kagura was initially a part of royal traditions. Gradually, it got separated from the palace and developed in to being a folk art. Hayachina Kagura is performed in villages. Just like Yakshagana, there are many troups which roam from one village to another. These troups perform only in the pre-decided villages called as ‘kasumys’. It rarely happens that one troupe performing in the village allocated to other troupe. But when this thing happens, two artists from opposite troupes have to wear the Lion Mask and battle it out. The one whose mask falls first or the one whose lion’s tongue comes out will be the loser.

The artists keep the box containing the dress and other things in a house called as the ‘Kagura house’. This is either a priest’s house or the house of a daughter of an artist from their own troupe.  The villagers have a great deal of respect for these houses. The stage to perform kagura is usually the front yard of a house. The stage set-up is quite simple. The stage is open from three sides and the audience can watch the performance from these sides. The backdrop of the stage carries the symbol of the troup.

There is a special ritual to mark the taking of the dress from the box. Then a lion dance follows. The initial phase of kagura is of prayers. Then the performance starts which is full of hand movements. Unlike Yakshagana, there are no dialogues to the charecters. The artists have to say everything from their facial expressions and hand movements. Sometimes the charecters are seen wearing the masks and sometimes without the masks.  One more feature of this kagura is all the actors are given same preference. In Yakshagana that is not the case. Senior artist is always considered superior to the young artists and they appear in the later phase of the performance of yakshagana. In Kagura the singer of the backstage play a vital role, which makes him the key person or a director of the of the show.

In Yakshagana, the basic scripts are usually are based on ancient mythology and are taken from the writings of ‘Parthisubba’. Hayachina Kagura also follows the same path. The Kagura songs are based on the traditional mountain worshipping scripts of Japan. Professor Morijiri finds lot of such similarities between these two art forms. There should be more research on this area.