JC ROAD: Fifty years after it was published and 45 years after it was adapted as a film, Bengaluru witnessed its first show of a theatre production of Samskara on Friday at a packed to the rafters Ravindra Kalakshetra.
The play begins with widows, heads shaven and dressed in red sarees, entering the stage from the ramps in front, one on either side. Lakshmidevamma, a child widow who has now got on in years, is heard cursing.
Then you are transported to the pious Praneshacharya’s house, who’s going about his daily rituals and tending to his bedridden wife. A routine the couple has followed for 20 years now. Just when he sits down to eat, Chandri, his errant neighbour Naranappa’s concubine, cries out to inform that ‘he’ is no more. Shock spreads through the agrahara. Most inhabitants have little to say that’s generous. Dasacharya’s dialogue, ‘Couldn’t he have died after we had eaten?’ is comic and indicative of the brahmins’ collective plight — that they can’t eat or bathe till the body is cremated.
That it is the unstoppable plague that has carried him away takes on a new significance later when death starts claiming one victim after another in the shudra colony and among the brahmins alike. Not even the rats are spared. To drive away the inauspicious vultures, attracted by the dead rats, bells chime and conches blare, juxtaposed with Praneshacharya’s ringing the bell after his unfruitful prayer session to Lord Maruti, asking who should perform the last rites, or Samskara, of the rotting body that once held the life of Naranappa.
The austere scholar had promised the latter’s mother that he would lead her wayward son back on the path of righteousness. Instead, we learn through a flashback that Praneshacharya’s admonition had fallen on deaf years with Naranappa saying, "I want to defeat brahminism. But what I feel bad about is, there’s no real brahmin left here for me to defeat, save you.” He even goes on to say that it was Praneshacharya’s rendition of the Puranas with their luscious descriptions of women that led one of the younger lads of the agrahara to give up brahminism. The words come back to haunt Praneshacharya after he and Chandri have sex, an experience that changes him so that he’s played by a new actor thereafter. There is no sutradhara to helm the play, but the stage adaptation, by O L Nagabhushana Swamy and Mayachandra Krishnaprasad, doesn’t leave much wanting.
On Friday, the audience seemed unusually communicative and a tad indisciplined. Soon after lights went out before the play, a voice began shouting, ‘Turn on the fans, I say! We’ve paid `100 for the tickets...we are entitled to this much,’ and so on. Despite the standard announcement, people freely used their phones, even prolonging conversations to talk about the rain outside. When the lines of the actor essaying Putta were drowned in the whirring of the fans, someone said, ‘Swalpa jorag matadi!’ (speak up please!), which he did for the next couple of sentences before his voice dipped again.
The second half of the play was interrupted by a power cut before the actors went on with their parts as though nothing was the matter. Here, and elsewhere, the expertise of the 30-odd Rangayana cast, directed by the repertory’s director H Janardhan, was apparent.
The play hardly deviates from the novel. Rather, it adds to it with Allama Prabhu's vachanas and apt music. Since the play runs for over two-and-a-half hours, a short interval might have helped.