An award-winning play that explores the ironies in the life of the second Pandava and situates the mythological character in the present day comes to Mumbai for a debut performance
A Good play is not made in a day, month, or sometimes, a year. It gestates in the mind, encroaching on all its corners, crumbling one instant and coming together the next, before it metamorphoses into a script. Rehearsals spanning months then sand down the rough edges, and the play is ready for curtain-up. It is from this point, though, that its real journey begins; the play settling down with each show, before finally coming into its own.
The trajectory of the play Bhima is no different. Up until 2011, the second Pandava was no more than a mythological character to Vivek Vijayakumaran. A dramatised reading from Ashok Malhotra's Child Man, however, helped the Bengaluru-based theatre practitioner see Bhima in a new light. "The book revealed his vulnerable side. Here was a character known for his physical prowess, who was weighed down by his sense of loyalty. Capable of loving both, Draupadi, who belonged in the palaces, and Hidimbi, who lived in the forest, he goes through immense pain to honour his mother's wish to keep Hidimbi away from the royal life," says Vijayakumaran about how the seeds for his META Award-winning production were sown. Bhima will be staged for the first time in Mumbai this Sunday.
Speaking further about the play's journey, he shares how research led him to MT Vasudevan Nair's, Randam Muzham, which retells the Mahabharata through the eyes of Bhima.
By 2012, Vijayakumaran had won a theatre scholarship, which helped him train in Kerala's traditional performing art form of kutiyattam. "There is a story of Bhima, which is portrayed through kutiyattam. I wanted to present the play through a physical performance derived from the art form to bring intensity to it," he explains.
Sachin Gurjale was then roped in to play the djembe, conch and other instruments live for the play. He also plays the voice of other characters, and interjects with comments that situate the play in a contemporary context. That was until 2016, when actor-dancer Anitha Santhanam came on board as director. "Anitha was seated in the audience. At the end of the performance, she had some valuable feedback to share," says Vijayakumaran. After 10 days of brainstorming, they decided they could work together on the play.
"There is a line in the play that says, 'The world is for you to eat, Bhima.' Bhima's hunger is a metaphor for our consumerist times, where nothing is ever enough," says Santhanam about her reading of the play.
For Vijayakumaran, though, it's Bhima's character that plays second fiddle to his siblings that questions the idea of who a hero is. "We are surrounded by people who are emotionally invested in what they do," he says. "But the world is more interested in people who operate with the head."
ON September 2, 5 pm and 8 pm
AT Studio Tamaasha, Versova, Andheri West
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