Connoisseurs of Indian art in Singapore are in for a cultural treat in the form of Kalaa Utsavam - Festival of the Arts scheduled to start from November 16. Besides exhibiting the rich array of Indian art in the form of dance, theatre and drama, it will also raise pertinent questions about society relating to gender, power and morality.
One such experimental show to be staged is Akshayambara, the brainchild of theatre practitioner Sharanya Ramprakash which explores the conflicts in tradition, gender, power and morality.
The experimental play uses both modern theatrical tools and the dance drama to create a contemporary narrative that raises questions on female representation and male ownership. Drawing from research and personal experience, the performance imagines a reversal of roles in the popular yakshagana plot of Draupadi Vastrapaharana.
People will enjoy the contradictions inherent in the play. Here, a male artist in streevesha (female costume) plays the virtuous Draupadi and espouses the cause of women, while in a tradition-defying move, a woman dons the pradhana purusha vesha (masculine form) of Kaurava (a legendary king from the Mahabharatha) who is driven by lust and power.
Akshayambara is a play within a play. It opens in the green room with a male actor preparing to play the role of Draupadi. A young woman enters the room. Engrossed in giving finishing touches to his make-up and costumes, the male actor gets angry to discover the intruder trying to dress up to play the role of Dushasana to enact the scene from the Mahabharata to disrobe Draupadi. Enraged, the male actor challenges the audacity of a woman to play the male role, a character in the Mahabharata in which women are not even allowed to play female roles. This drama is being enacted offstage and on the stage Dushasana’s most shameful attempt at stripping Draupadi’s sari is about to be enacted.
The scenes from these two plots keep on juxtaposing, exploring gender issues – the issue of Draupadi’s confrontation with male-dominated society and the protest of the female performer daring to challenge a patriarchal society.
Akshayambara stood out for its ability to use the stage to question the status quo in society. With a clever use of dramatic monologue and set design, Sharanya blurred the lines between the stage and life.
The play Akshayambara has received several nominations at the Mahindra Excellence in Theatre Awards (META) 2016, winning Best Original Script (Sharanya Ramprakash) and Best Actor in a Lead Role – Male (Prasad Cherkady).
The play has been written and directed by Sharanya Ramprakash. She is a stage actor, director and one of the founders of Dramanon, Bangalore. Over the last eight years, she has directed six full-length productions that have been staged over 75 times across the country.
She received the INLAKS Theatre Award in 2014, and had trained at the Udupi Yakshagana Kendra under the tutelage of Guru Sanjeeva Suvarna. She received a grant from India Foundation for the Arts under the Arts Practice Programme in 2015.