Kurathi is about a society that was “sidelined, betrayed and suppressed”. The play traverses between the Mahabharata and the present day, as those living on the fringes continue to be so. Designed and directed by Abhimanyu Vinayakumar and written by his father, MN Vinayakumar, it will be staged in the capital city from today (March 21) by their theatre group, Janabheri.
The characters in focus are Hidumba, his sister Hidimbi and her son, Ghatolkacha who live with other forest dwellers in harmony with nature. The Pandavas come to the forest with their mother, Kunthi, and the problems that begin with their arrival is the crux of the narrative, says Abhimanyu.
The Mahabharatha is seen and interpreted through the perspective of the forest dwellers. Hidimbi’s mother and brothers become the mother and sons who get burnt inside Lakshagraha, a lacquer house built in Varanavat as a death trap by the Kauravas for Kunthi and the Pandavas. Hidimbi gets abused, Hidumba, is murdered. The forest-dwellers are evacuated to construct Indraprastha with a promise that they would will be taken care of. The oppression continues, until one day Hidimbi, the kurathi, curses the Pandavas. It’s doomsday, as the deluge submerges the earth.
“Hidumba and Hidimbi are one-line characters in the epic. No author has written about them in a positive light. They have never been given any value at all,” the director believes. The play tries to equate Hidumba’s plight with that of Madhu, a tribal who was lynched. “The tribals have learnt to live with the alienation and suppression. Our point is that the ill-treatment might have begun during the period of the Mahabharata itself,” Vinayakumar points out.
Tribals from Wayanad were brought to their rehearsal space in Shoranur to study their language, songs, art forms, behaviour, body language and more. “We show a group of people sitting in a circle, on the verge of tears. It is a ritual of the Kurichya tribe, ‘Koottam’, whenn they wash away their sorrow by crying. Moreover the tribals are practitioners of indigenous medicines. In a scene where Hidimbi and others are shown preparing medicines, we have used tribal art forms such as vattakali and kambadakali,” he adds.
Research started two years ago and the making process itself took three months. Abhimanyu says that the stories in the Mahabharata have had a deep connect with his thought process. “So my assumption was that it would be easy to bring the story on stage unlike our other productions. But we had to change the script several times and it had to be placed on a bigger canvas than we had conceptualised,” he adds.
When the play comes alive on a 40×50 ft sandwich performance space, which is sand itself, the audience stand to get a 360 degree gallery view. Kurathi has elements of puppetry, folk, classical and ritualistic art forms, besides video projection and light and sound effects. They have also used eco-friendly products keeping in with the theme.
“When you present something on a grand scale, the appreciation level of the audience also goes up. Since the Mahabharata has had multiple interpretations over the years, I wanted something new in terms of performance language, text and visual narrative. We have envisaged an emotional experience for the audience than just a visual treat,” he says. And one aspect the duo was very particular about putting across was the politics of the play. “The fact that this world belongs neither to you nor me, but to scores of animals, birds and other living beings,” concludes Abhimanyu.
Kurathi will be staged at Putharikandam Maidan from March 21 to 24 at 7 pm. Entry is free for the show on the first day. On other days, ticket is priced ₹500 per head. Contact: 9447995636; insider.in.
* MN Vinayakumar started Janabheri in 2004 as a Kathakali troupe because of Abhimanyu’s passion for Kathakali. Abhimanyu, a student of Kerala Kalamandalam, however, took to theatre after a few years. Since then Janabheri has been focussing on theatre. It has eight productions to its credit. Major works include Marimankanni, based on the life of Unnayi Warrier, and Yamadhoothu- After the Death of Othello, based on Shakespeare’s Othello. Both plays were selected for Bharat Rangotsav in New Delhi.
* Kurathi’s cast has Samudra Rejith, Ajith Kannan, Raag, Ramkumar, Sumesh Manithara and Priya Sreejith among others.