What a creative expression desires is freedom. But of course, no freedom is absolute. An author can’t produce an unwieldy book, a filmmaker must collapse a life story into a few hours and a playwright has to restrict the act to the contours of the stage.
“A play has to consider the complexities of the number of characters that can be introduced, as locations and conflicts, unlike a book or film. Of course, time is another factor. So there can’t be an abundance of any. Everything has to be effective and succinct in its message. It comes down to drishya and dialogue, the latter involving the audience, albeit silently. It's about writing within different parameters,” says Krishnan Rangaraju who wrote The Importance of Being Draupadi that was directed by Prakash Belawadi. Staged earlier this year, the two-hour long production is based on Bheel Bharat, the tribe Bheel’s version of the Mahabharat and challenges certain conventions of our society .
The play was Rangaraju’s first-ever attempt at theatre writing. Sat before him, as Rangaraju begun to plot his story, were the enormity of the epic tale of Mahabharat and the need to create a contemporary conversation with it. He harked back to his student days where study of Sanskrit revealed to him the sutradhara or narrator. “So I used a sutradhara and a prabandhaka in my telling as well, just like the Greek used the chorus,” he says.
Taking cue from Shakespeare who used scenes within acts, The Importance of Being Draupadi was divided into three acts. “I first wrote a synoptic note for each act - that was perhaps the chartered accountant in me in at work. And there’s where I dropped the systemic approach to it as well because I didn’t want the spontaneity of the dialogues to be lost,” he says. Much to his surprise, once Rangaraju began to fill in the acts, the prose flowed. “I was able to write 70 per cent of the play in a cumulative of 15 days,” he says.
Often plays become great books in themselves. The Importance of Being Draupadi has been published too. “Though the trend for a long while has been that plays that get staged are not published, many which are often don't get staged. Draupadi itself was rejected by some directors citing the broad range of complications of having 20 characters in a mythological setting. That was until Prakash Belawadi came along. My dream though is to see B M Srikanthaiah’s play Aswatthaaman make it to the theatre,” says Rangaraju.