Vibrant, exuberant, irreverent, gender bending, and hysterically funny, are some words that come to mind while watching Shikhandi, written and directed by Faezeh Jalali from Mumbai. The play was a runner-up at the Sultan Padamsee Playwriting Awards 2016 and was also adjudged as the best play at the Laadli Media Award for Gender Sensitivity 2017. Last year, her production 7/7/7 mesmerised Delhi audiences in the Mahindra Excellence in Theatre Awards Festival. The two productions are diametrically opposed to one another.
Recently staged at the Old World Theatre Festival in Delhi, Shikhandi is among the rare plays funded by the National Centre for the Performing Arts (NCPA), Mumbai. The story centres around Amba, one of the fiercest characters of the Mahabharata, who curses Bhishma and resolves to kill him in her next life.
Reborn as female, raised as a male, Amba undergoes a sex change on her wedding night (thanks to a Yaksha), in the forest and finally she is able to wreak her revenge on Bhishma. A retelling of the story of Shikhandi with tongue in cheek, mixing the traditional with the contemporary, the play questions maleness, femaleness and everything in between. Shikhandi is perhaps one of the earliest trans-characters known in mythology.
The play is well written and executed using a talented cast of eight actors—all adept at high-energy dancing and acting. Conceived entirely in rhyming verse, the production uses classical dance style and riveting gymnastics to tell the engaging tale. The audience, young for the most part, laughs along, enjoying every moment.
Atul Kumar’s Khwab Sa also used dance, drama and live music to narrate this strange and powerful version of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Atul’s success in this interpretation is how he blends and mixes folk and contemporary, language and dance, symbol and meaning.
Titania is part banjaran, part mother Earth, fecund and still. She holds sway over the two pairs of star-crossed lovers, who only relate to each other through dance. Their coming together and tearing apart finds realisation through contemporary dance choreography excellent in conception and execution. Located bang centre stage is the live musician, who produces the rather electronic track. By contrast the ‘rude mechanicals’ are dressed as Kathiawari craftsmen, their verbal and slapstick humour is perhaps the only link with Atul’s earlier production Twelfth Night (Piya Behrupiya).
The Company Theatre’s ensemble of 16 dancers, singers and musicians weave together a landscape of Shakespeare’s fantastical vision turning it into a dark metaphor. Bodies and voices drift from real to unreal, moving in a daze similar to possession.
Both these productions from Mumbai reflect a new trend of reinterpreting Indian performance traditions and stories, and are a far cry from the humorous and numerous sex comedies that were staple fare of Mumbai English language theatre till recently.
The writer is a Delhi-based theatre director firstname.lastname@example.org