“Draupadi considered Krishna his sakha and hid nothing from him, except...”
That’s the teaser introducing Importance of Being Draupadi by Krishnan Rangaraju based on the ‘Bheel Bharat’ - the Bheel tribal version of the Mahabharat. Directed by Prakash Belawadi, theatre person and journalist, the first show at Chowdiah Memorial Hall drew huge crowds and expectations ran high.
Though the title indicates that it is an English play, this begins with a behind-the-scenes simulation - a conversation between Prabandhaka (the playwright figure played by Abhijith Revathi) and Sutradhara (the narrator played by Suneel Raghavendra) - which is a common feature in Kannada plays.
Once the story begins to unfold, on common consensus of the two characters, the audience is faced with a scene set in Indraprastha, where Draupadi - brought to life by Siri Ravikumar - is drawing a portrait, not knowing whom she is depicting. Between this and the last scene, which sees her in front of the easel again, the audience becomes witness to the trials and tribulations, the sorrows and humiliation that she is put through over the course of what she chooses to refer to as the ‘marital circus’ even as she calls herself a distributed possession with no anchor. As Karna (Harish Seshadri) says later in the play, “Life is a bundle of lamentations,” for both him as well as Draupadi, whom he despises.
While Draupadi - supposedly the embodiment of the Feminine - is the central character, Vaasuki (Abhijeet Ramakrishna Shetty), the serpent king, intended as the ‘ultimate idea of the Masculine’, makes an appearance every now and then. Initially, lusting for Draupadi and forcing himself on her, he seems to play the role of an antagonist.
But as the play progresses, he has a change of heart and begins to sympathise with and care for her.
The two-hour play seems like a long one to sit through. While the actors skillfully brought characters to life, the storyline is not as gripping as the first few dialogues invoking a sense of suspense suggest.
What makes the play different is the sets, with two LED screens showing moving images to match the scene as designed by Belawadi.
Also, it is interesting that Krishna, the puppeteer who typically pulls the strings in the Mahabharat, never appears on stage throughout the play. A critique on the traditional values of Dharma and Karma, The Importance... raises issues regarding treatment of women in a patriarchy and caste system as well.
The play has its mirthful moments too - with dialogues like, “No one knew Krishna was a god, not even Arjuna. Krishna had to give a lecture demonstration to show that he was a god.”
Or the scene where Karna chases Vaasuki, around Draupadi’s bed.