Ninasam’s Tirugata - the wandering theatre troupe of the institute that has produced many stalwarts on the regional theatre and cinema scene - began its annual tour from home ground Heggodu. Bringing to Bangalore Sita Swayamwara, a production based on M L Shreekantesha Gowda's play written in 1901, the troupe has been reherasing for about three months now.
Director Manjunath L Badigera worked with some of the members of the current group on a classroom production of the play last year. “What appealed to me about the script was that it deviated from the popular version of Ramayana,” he tells City Express, adding that any drama based on the epic is always a crowd-puller.
The plot revolves around Rama and Sita’s yearning to see each other. Ravana, who lusts for Sita, disguises himself as Rama to win over the heart of the maiden with his ministers pretending to be his friends.
“There is a scene when the real Rama himself cannot recognise who his friends are. Shreekantesha was ardent admirer of Shakespeare and so you can see how this mix-up is influenced by Midsummer Nights’ Dream. There are parts of the play where you can spot the influences of Sanskrit drama as well,” shares Badigera.
Much of the action in the play is set on the banks of the river Kaushiki or Kaushiki theera. A fortnight after rehearsals began in August, the director led the cast to the banks of a river near Jog falls, a few kilometres away from Ninasam. Throughout the play, nature is an important element and Badigera thought this bit of ‘method-acting’ would make for some very inspired performances.
“The actors were able to absorb the sensibilities of the play better. It was a successful experiment. Of course, there’s a huge difference in leaping boulder to boulder across the river than on the sets,” he guffaws.
On the costumes and sets, says Badigera, “I had the imposter Rama dressed as what I call ‘calendar Rama’ (blue-skinned and carrying a bow). But the real Rama is dressed in hermit clothes, fittingly like the other disciples of sage Vishwamitra. No one really knows what Rama looked like.” He adds that the costume of Ravana as Rama is in accordance with the common visualisation of the mythological hero, indicating that much of the play takes place in the audience’s mind. “It’s our job to evoke their imagination,” he says, citing Hollywood movies as his inspiration.