As Saturday evening unfolded, the amphitheater at T.M.A. Pai Park teemed with the hustle of an anticipating audience eager to watch Rashomon, a play by ADA Dramatics.
ADA, in association with Betaal, performed a Hindi adaptation of the eponymous Japanese film from 1950 in a unique form called Yakshagana, which added a refreshing appeal to the usual on-stage performances. Yakshagana is a 400 year old theatrical form of historical story-telling prevalent in Karnataka, incorporating music, dance, dialogues and certain styles of stage techniques.
The play was inspired by Akira Kurosawa’s award-winning movie, Rashomon, whose plot in turn was based on the philosophical tale called ‘In a Grove’, by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa. Rashomon went on to become one of the greatest movies in Japan, as well as worldwide, and paved way for the coining of the term ‘Rashomon effect’. This effect primarily deals with the same event being given contradictory interpretations by different individuals involved, which is what happens in Rashomon.
Directed by Abhinav Grover, an alumnus of MIT and former student of The Drama School of Mumbai, this play revolves around a murder, four witnesses and their versions of the same story.
The story begins with three men (a woodcutter, a bhikshuk and a teesra aadmi) taking shelter from the cold rain at a gate, discussing the murder of a soldier in the woods. The woodcutter claims to have discovered the body of the dead soldier while cutting wood, and is brought in to testify in court, along with the bhikshuk (sage) who saw the soldier and his wife passing by in the forest. The two suspects in the trial, the soldier’s wife and Tajomaro (the local bandit), are also present. Tajomaro, apart from being blamed for murdering the soldier is also accused of raping his wife, and stealing her khanjar (dagger).
As the tale unfolds, three incompatible versions of the murder are told in a series of flashbacks by Tajomaro, the soldier’s wife, and the dead man himself through a medium (bhoota). Each person’s perspective makes it harder to decipher what really happened. After the trial, the woodcutter narrates his account of the actual story to the other two men, having witnessed the rape and murder and knowing the real truth. However, the commoner realizes that the reason why the woodcutter did not speak up at the trial was because of the guilt that arose from him stealing the woman’s khanjar. The bhikshuk’s faith in humanity shatters, only to be restored again when the woodcutter decides to amend his sins by adopting and raising the abandoned baby they find, along with his other children.
The intense performance left the audience in such awe, that even after its denouement, not a single person got up to leave. MIT’s director, Dr. GK Prabhu, then took the stage to congratulate the team on their wonderful acting and direction, following it up with an exciting announcement on introducing theatre as a part of the MIT curriculum, whose implementation is bound to take time but is currently in process. He hopes to give the thought proper structure by taking valuable feedback, given the immense talent pool and multi-disciplinary aspect of Manipal.
The cast and crew put in a tremendous effort for Roshomon’s success, putting in hours of practice and even undergoing proper training from Udupi’s Yakshagana Kendra. With live music, fire torches, and elaborate costumes, their commendable performance and Abhinav’s brilliant adaptation of the 67 year old Samurai tale, was truly worth the watch.
—Tejal Khullar for MTTN
Photographs by: Paritosh Kulkarni