Saturday Features

An insipid affair

  • Ideally, adaptations like Yayati could serve as great mediums to retell age-old literature for a modern viewership and on that account the play misses the opportunity, leaving the audience wondering about all that might have been
- Timothy Aryal
During the first half of the play, what happens on stage is a flurry of dialogues between its characters, back and forth, as if the actors were regurgitating a text book. Such was the intensity of the interplay that there was virtually no space for the audience to process or reflect on what was going on

Mar 10, 2018-In October last year, when I came out of the theatre after watching the play Chara Haru ko Sammelan, I met a frustrated fellow theatregoer who was discussing with his peers that the play failed to live up to his expectations. It was clear that he was dissatisfied with the performance. “I am not a regular theatregoer, I just came here casually to have some fun. I have watched plenty of street plays though and I derive more entertainment from them than a play like this,” he said, adding, “I am probably never coming back to the theatre.” 

What is it that made the play, which revolves around the fable of a spiritual transformation that a horde of birds go through, exert an exactly opposite effect on a ‘casual’ viewer than what it aspired to achieve? One supposes, such a play should have instilled some insight and would have ultimately been a rewarding experience.

But the play, as I wrote in a review at the time, was a morass of disjointed narratives, never succeeding to make the audience feel anything about the play’s characters, and was ultimately, a drudgery to sit through. It was an irony that a play co-translated by Peter Brook, the advocate against Deadly Theatre—the type of theatre, as Brook puts it, to be avoided as it can be classified as ‘boring’—turned out to be such an insipid affair. 

And this seems to be happening with a worrying frequency in Kathmandu’s theatre scene today. Take for instance, Kalapatthar Mathi, staged a month ago at Mandala, or the more recent Yayati, which is currently ongoing at Shilpee Theatre in Battisputali. 

Coming out of the theatre watching Yayati, I was emotionally drained as sitting through Chara Haru ko Sammelan. 

Yayati is such that some twenty minutes into it, you stop investing yourself into everything that is happening on the stage. During the first half of the play, what happens on stage is a flurry of dialogues between its characters, back and forth, as if the actors are regurgitating a text book. Such is the intensity of the interplay that there is virtually no space for the audience to process or reflect on what is going on.

The play’s pace slows down during the second half but for someone unaquainted with the original material, like myself, it was hard to keep up with the proceedings on stage, apart from staring, soar-eyed at the stage. 

In the paper, A Study of Myth and Reality in Girish Karnard’s Yayati, lecturers Kavita Dubey and Meera Shroti write, “Karnad has taken this myth from Mahabharata with a view to expose the absurdity of human life with all its elemental passions and conflicts, man’s eternal struggle to achieve perfection, escapism from responsibilities and self sacrifice, dreams and desire, identity crises and women predicaments.” These are fascinating motifs for a play.

But in director Tanka Chaulagain’s rendition, none of these subjects quite stick. The lead character of Yayati (played by Ghimire Yubaraj) is a case study on how not to construct a one-dimensional character.

A character as Yayati, ensnared in such passion and hedonism, must be something extraordinary; he must have exerted a certain charm and swagger, yet Yubaraj’s Yayati often comes across as inauthentic, more given to finishing his lines than to exude the required emotions. Veteran actor Yubaraj’s acting prowess and the sheer vitality that he offers on stage is well known; but in Yayati these talents are channeled the wrong way. 

The sets come as a welcome note in Yayati. The minimalistic sets are evocative of a regal palace and are beautiful to look at. But what transpires between the spaces leaves a lot to be desired. 

The main problem with Yayati is that it fails to connect with the audience who, in cases like mine, have only little knowledge of the mythology that it is based on. As it is, the play, because of several shortcomings, failed to get me fully invested and empathetic about the characters and the plotline.

Ideally, adaptations like these could serve as great mediums to retell age-old literature for a modern viewership and on that account Yayati misses the opportunity, leaving the audience wondering about all that could have been. 

Published: 10-03-2018 08:34

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