Theatre Review: “Bali” by Adishakti at Ranga Shankara

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It had been quite a while since I went to Ranga Shankara for a play, and the blurb about “Bali” was interesting enough to pull me in. Here’s the quotation from the excellent brochure that was handed out before the play:

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“Adishakti’s Bali is a retelling of the various events that lead up to the battle between Bali and Ram and eventually, the death of Bali. The play explores the notion of right and wrong, and how it may change when each and every character is given an opportuntiy to voice their thoughts and opinions.”

With this intriguing introduction, I went in to watch the play, and it did not disappoint. From the very first scene, the intensity of the tension was kept up. The play did not always proceed in a linear fashion, but used a pastiche of scenes to put over the premise, that what is right or wrong changes according to who is telling the story…Bali, Tara, Sugriva, Angadha, Ram…or Ravan.

The group taking a bow after the performance. Photo: Deepa Mohan

Let me discuss the technical aspects of the production first. The actors were all very lithe and some of the choreography reminded me of Kalaripayattu move in the agility. This contributed a lot to the denouement of the narrative.

The actors were all quite word perfect, and there was not a single “flub” in the production I watched.Since no masks were used (I was wondering if they would be), facial expressions came across clearly, and indeed, in several scenes, were intensified to nearly a mime effect.

The music was excellent throughout. The audience responded to the music as much as to the action on stage, and it heightened the intensity to a great degree. When the music stopped, the silences were quite as eloquent.

The costumes were what I call “contemporary ethnic”. While not precisely ethnic, they were in the flowing, easy lines, enabling easy mobility; a couple of “filmy” costumes notwithstanding, they felt quite authentic. The little tableau of Vali and Sugriva twitching up the ends of their dhotis to tie up at the waist was very entertaining, and one of the few times I have seen costumes form a part of the action!

The stage was, intriguingly, completely bare, and apart from a kind of stand in the “theru koothu” presentation scenes, continued so. This put more pressure on the cast to take forward the play without the help of props…another unusual feature, in a play set on a mythological figure. The few props that were used, such as stones,rolling balls, and ropes, were sometimes understandable, sometimes (as in the scene of two women alternately reaching for the stones and fighting over them) a little obscure.

The lighting was also of a very high order. Characters were highlighted, the colours changed with the mood in the action, and the lighting enhanced the mood of the play at every scene.

The play alternated between a “regular” stage and a “theru koothu” (street plays of Tamil Nadu”) format. In the latter, more exaggeration was permitted, to convey the ideas and emotions. The cast, too, were dressed in more allegorical costumes.

Given all these technical inputs, the play effectively put across its message. Though some parts were still a little puzzling ( I never worked out the character of the female companion of Tara…who was she, what did she represent?) in the main, the high energy of the play sustained throughout the performance, and set the audience to introspecting….what is right or wrong? Who is an enemy, who is a friend? Can someone be slain in secret? Can another man’s wife be taken as one’s own, as part of victory? (Rama’s hidden slaying of Vali is, through the centuries, one of the most controversial part of the Ramayana.) We, as an audience, felt, in fact, drained at the end of the performance, having sustained an emotional and energy high through the 70-minute performance.

I am also intrigued by calling the play “Bali” instead of “Vali”. The wiki entry on Vali tells me that the name is often spelt Bali in many Indian languages, but to me, the name is Vali, so I am still wondering if there was a specific reason to spell it in the Bengali/Assamese/Oriya way.

I was very impressed by the direction. Such high-energy productions can easily run away with the narrative or the emotions, and to guide the performance and yet not be seen to be obviously doing so, is quite a feat!

All in all, not one of the light-entertainment plays that one goes to, to get away from the stresses and strains of the everyday world, but one that made me feel, and think, intensely. Hats off to Adishakti, and I hope I will get the chance fo watch more of their work!

“Bali”, by Adishakti Laboratory for Theatre Arts Research
Written and directed by Nimmy Raphael
Cast: Vinay Kumar, Arvind Rane, Ashiqa Salvan, Kiyomi Mehta, Rijul Ray
Music arragned and composed by Vinay Kumar and played by Meedhu Miriyam
Music for the Tara/Bali scene composed by Kirtana Krishna and Vinay Kumar
Lights designed by Vinay Kumar, executed by Anand Satheendran
Creative Guidance: Anmol Vellani and Vinay Kumar
Prodcution Managers: Apoorva Arthur and Bhairavi
Costumes designed by Viji Roy
Duration: 75 min.


Deepa Mohan
About Deepa Mohan 753 Articles
Deepa Mohan is a freelance writer and avid naturalist.

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