It’s an uncertain year in sepia Bombay and a young Kabir Bedi is in a loincloth, his back to the audience. Slowly, he wraps himself in the careful layers of regal clothing and when he finally turns, one of the most imprudent sultans of medieval India gets a face. It’s this dramatic image that still sticks out in theatre director Raell Padamsee’s distant memory of the legendary play ‘Tughlaq’ which was staged in Bombay by her father Alyque Padamsee. Raell incidentally is in the process of taking her own production of Karnad’s play, ‘Broken Images’, to Bengaluru this Friday. “He was supposed to attend the show,” said Padamsee, who remembers Karnad as “one of the legends” of the world of theatre.Long before it was fashionable to dive into history and mythology to make socially relevant art, Karnad had made a habit of it. Tughlaq catapulted Karnad to playwright hall of fame alongside greats such as Vijay Tendulkar, Mohan Rakesh and Badal Sircar. Karnad began his work at a time a strong wave, the “theatre of roots” movement, was washing over India. It marked the attempts of many Indian playwrights and directors to decolonise Indian theatre with the use of classical dance and song, martial arts, and Sanskrit aesthetics. While Karnad’s work shared this movement’s goal, it also drew from some western styles like Greek theatre through the use of choruses and masks. His plays were staged by noted directors like Ebrahim Alkazi, BV Karanth, Prasanna, Satyadev Dubey, Vijaya Mehta, Shyamanand Jalan and Amal Allana among others. For Kabir Bedi, playing Tughlaq proved pivotal. “Tughlaq became Bombay’s most successful play ever. For me, it opened the doors to the film industry,” said Bedi, who recalls having lots of meetings with Karnad to get a sense of what he had in mind. “He was a colossal figure. He was known by the body of his work as a writer, director and producer and was part of Indian theatrical renaissance,” said Bedi. Actor Denzil Smith, who recalls watching both Tuqhlaq and Hayavadana in Prithvi Theatre, believes Karnad’s contribution to Indian English playwriting is without parallel. “While his earliest works had to do with history and mythology, his latest works were a comment on what is happening in society,” said Smith.
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June 8, 2019
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