A new play by Bangalore-based Abhishek Majumdar (1980) is always eagerly awaited, and his new offering Kaumudi (moonlight) lives up to expectation. The play was recently performed in Mumbai. Abhishek has written 14 plays in English, Hindi and Bangla, and has also directed some 16-odd plays. Some of his well-known plays are Harlesden High Street, Thook, Djinns of Eidgah and Treadmill.
Kaumudi has been influenced by texts such as Anand’s Malayalam novel Vyasam Vigneswaram. Abhishek says that the idea of a conversation between Abhimanyu and Ekalavya emerged from this novel. Then there is Jorge Luis Borges’ essay Blindness, which talks about the author’s experience of losing his eyesight.
Kaumudi is quite an ambitious play as it blends the grandeur and travails of theatre with India’s well-known epic Mahabharat. And like all epics, Kaumudi is multi-layered, yet seamless. The two distinct themes come together and create a unique whole.
Kaumudi narrates the story of a senior thespian Satyasheel (Kumud Mishra), Allahabad-based theatre artist who is ageing, and losing his eye-sight. His portrayal of ‘Ekalavya’ has earned him name and fame. He is about to retire from stage. When the play opens, he is to give his last performance. To match his acting ability, the theatre company has invited an equally known young actor from Banaras Paritosh (Sandeep Shikhar) to play ‘Abhimanyu’. As per the transition plan of the theatre company, Paritosh will play Ekalavya once Satyasheel retires. Till then he will play Abhimanyu.
The audience notices the high levels of hostility between the two as they rehearse for the play. Slowly it is revealed that they are not strangers to each other, but are father and son, separated years ago due to an unfortunate incident. Back then, a playful evening at sea-shore took an ugly turn, and Satyasheel (the father) had to choose between saving his wife or his little son. He chose his son (Paritosh), but the son never forgave his father for killing his mother, and in anger, shifted to Banaras. After a gap of few years, they come face to face with each other. Paritosh is an accomplished actor too who has not learnt anything from his father. As the play progresses, the parallels between the actors’ lives and that of the characters they portray, become sharp. This on-stage drama is full of philosophical issues and debates.
At one level the play is about the tensions between an ageing father and his young son, and at another level, it is about injustice meted out to Ekalavya, machinations of Lord Krishna and guru Dronacharya to ensure that Arjun retains the title of ‘all-time great practioner of archery’. At one point of time, Satyasheel tells Paritosh that he will never be able to do justice to the character of Ekalavya.
Abhishek’s play takes the (controversial) position that Lord Krishna pondered over the fact that Abhimanyu could be saved. He faces the ghost of Ekalavya, who reminds him that there are can never be two great archers. And if there has to be only one, then you will sacrifice Abhimanyu to keep the honour with Arjuna, as Dronacharya got me to offer him my thumb so that Arjuna does not face any challenge! This indeed stuns the discerning members in audience. Parallel to this, off stage, Paritosh accuses Satyasheel of letting him go, of sacrificing his son for himself and for his art.
In addition to these two levels, the play also has one more layer and it is about the very nature of theatre as an art form. What is the truth in theatre? Is truth a lie here, or is the lie the truth? Where does one draw the line?
Kaumudi is an eminently watchable play. Here, the set is a simple pandal in the centre, a rug spread out, and green rooms of artists with mirrors and lights. The performances are compelling. This must be Kumud Mishra’s finest performance so far. I was reminded of Balraj Sahani who moved in front of the camera with ease. Kumud moves equally effortlessly and shifts from one role to other with tremendous confidence. The hidden, suppressed anger about his son is well expressed. Sandeep Shikhar is joined by Gopal Datt and Shubhrahyoti Barat in making this a wonderful play with their top-class acting. All the four actors play two, and some time three roles, and bring comic relief from time to time. Kaumudi is an outstanding piece of fine, thought-provoking, theatre.