Theatre: Re-enacting the Blind Age

The poem-drama ‘Andhayug’ (1954) composed by noted literary Dharamveer Bharti has achieved classic status. Ibrahim Alkaji, the then director of the National School of Drama (NSD), staged the play in 1963 at Delhi’s Feroze Shah Kotla and again in 1974 on an open stage against the backdrop of the ruins of the Purana Fort. has become a legend for Indian theatre. It has been staged hundreds of times by various directors over the past sixty years, but even today, colorists take it as a challenge.

It was recently organized by the NSD Rangmandal under the direction of former NSD director Ram Gopal Bajaj. Inspired by the Mahabharata, the play is based on the last day of the war. Questions like faith, disbelief, death of God still churn the audience. The horrors of war, the destruction, the sense of futility in victory and defeat have become the fate of modern man. These lines from the play – ‘The day when the dark age descends on the world / Does not go and repeat itself’, seem to have been written to target our times. Aren’t we living the story of Mahabharata by watching and reading Russia-Ukraine war in the media? Aren’t we cursed to suffer royal judgment? Did humanity learn any lessons from the First and Second World Wars? Aren’t we all part of Ashwatthama’s madness burning in the fire of vengeance? The relevance of this play lies in these questions.

In the play, the blind king Dhritarashtra and the blindfolded Gandhari are not myths but present the reality of the modern political system. The way the two cops mock power in the play brings out the pain and tragedy of the common man. Ram Gopal Bajaj has conceived the stage in simplicity. He said in his statement that ‘I am trying to make this a play that can easily be performed in proscenium and all other places’.

Potshangbam Rita Devi as Gandhari and Bikram Lepcha as Ashwatthama were impressive on stage. In fact, this drama has enough room for every character to act, be it a guard, an old beggar, or a yuyutsu. Sauti Chakraborty’s lighting is eye-catching, but the music cannot be said to be impressive. The play fails to add anything distinct to the color scheme. Our generation has not seen Alkaji’s plays, but has seen Bajaj’s stage performances and plays directed by him. It was expected that from a proven artist like Bajaj, he would have brought this classic drama in a new form. The question arises as to why no innovative experiments are targeted in the presentation of this play. Why did this presentation fail to create anything new beyond Dharamveer Bharti’s creation?


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