Metaphor for a new age

Girish Karnadís latest play A Heap of Broken Images marks his return to direction after
nearly three decades
Girish Karnad with the protagonist of the play, Manjula Murthy
Girish Karnad (r) with the protagonist of the play, Manjula Murthy

Girish Karnad breaks new ground with his A Heap of Broken Images that explores facets of the urban Indian society with its fascination for technology. The play staged as part of a theatre festival in Bangalore, was written especially for the Ranga Shankara theatre there, in English, as well as in Kannada, as Odakallu Bimba.

"Images in the play are those that one obviously relates to. These are the images that have an impact on peopleís lives everyday. These are images that are absurd to ignore," Karnad says.

Karnadís play, which marks his return to direction after about three decades, is different from his earlier works. Most of his earlier plays are rooted in history and mythology. Yayati is based on an episode from The Mahabharata. Tughlaq is a socio-political exploration of life and times of Mohammed-bin-Tuglaq. Hayavadana, inspired by Thomas Mannís work, uses the Yakshagana form to explore the body-mind dichotomy that preoccupies the modern world. His Nagamandala is based on a folk tale retold by A. K. Ramanujan.

The title of the play, A Heap of Broken Images, taken from T. S. Eliotís, The Wasteland, refers to the electronic images we confront everyday, and overwhelm our existence.

Weaving through ponderings on the politics of language, especially the role of English in Indian writing, and on how media and fame can affect human relationships, the play explores the larger debate of the virtual image that consumes us all.

The protagonist of the play is Manjula Murthy, nee Naik, a struggling Kannada short-story writer who "crosses over" to write a successful novel in English. Manjulaís character brings to the forefront the age-old debate of Indian writing in English, dramatised through the actressí dialogue with the mirror-image of her own self, shown on a television screen on stage.

Accused of having sold-out to the charm of lucre, of having abandoned her language, Manjula argues that her publishers say, "Her book is selling because it has the smell of the soil".

The focus is on the new-age dilemma ó the diminishing distinction between the real and the virtual, that is portrayed in the dramatic conclusion of this one-hour monoact.

The real Manjula morphs into her virtual self on the screen, and the audience is left looking at her images flashing on eight TV screens. All one gets to hear are snatches of her preceding soliloquy, discordant, disconnected, descending into cacophony, indicative of the predicament of human existence.

Arundhati Raja, the artistic director of Bangalore-based Artistes Repertory Theatre (ART), presents the monologue in English. Arundhati Nag, the person behind Bangaloreís theatre-revival and the founder of Ranga Shankara, acts in its Kannada version.

Karnad brought in Bangalore-based filmmaker Chaitanya K M as co-director. As Arundhati Raja says, "It is all in the timing. The technique of timing oneís live response to that of oneís image on the screen."

"Interestingly, in Bangalore, where we first staged the show, people who watched the English version would watch the Kannada version as well, and vice versa, to see how the story was portrayed in the two languages," she says.

That the play has been written in both languages is crucial to the subject-matter of dramatisation itself. About renderings of texts into other languages, Karnad says, "India, unfortunately, has no tradition of good translation. This is something we need to work on. An organisation like the Sahitya Akademi has contributed whatever it can to the Indian literature, but it has its own problems. Since it is in Delhi, it has to deal with bureaucracy, monetary constraints," says Karnad, who has been the Chairman of the Sangeet Natak Akademi.

"There are no good vernacular theatres in India. Marathi theatre is very good, in fact very bubbly, energetic. One canít say the same about theatre in other languages, say Assamese or Kashmiri."

"As for Kannada theatre, it has a lot of energy which needs to be galvanised. With Arundhati Nag setting up Ranga Shankara in Bangalore, it has been marvellous for Kannada theatre. The theatre stages plays in English and in Kannada, and has had collaborative productions as well," says the Jnanpith awardee.

Karnad, who is presently working on a television series for Doordarshan based on a Kannada novel Chidambara Rahasya by K. Purnachandra Tejaswi, says he is a playwright first. "I am in films only for money."

"I have not thought of writing a novel as yet. But maybe, someday, who knows," he says.

Karnadís contribution to Kannada literature is undisputed. He is one of the seven Kannada litterateurs to have been awarded the Jnanpith, and one of the nearly 50 Kannada writers to have received the Sahitya Akademi award. ó PTI