When I heard about staging of the magnum opus Malegalalli Madumagalu (A Bride from the Wilds) by Kuvempu, I was more than excited to watch it. Not because it was a novel written by Kuvempu, but because it was a nine-hour long play to be played with four intervals at Rangayana in Mysore.
We had seen yakshagana or a village drama staged through the night. But this is something different as modern theatre has never witnessed such a fete of gargantuan proportions.
Getting tickets for the show was another adventure. I had to ring up many friends to book the tickets, but in vain and at last, dad had to ask his friends and connections to get us tickets.
I felt it could be a sort of nothing less than an adventure, as even movies these days have shortened their length and very few stretch till three hours. I had my own doubts if my dad he would be able to sit up through the night to watch it. But the play proved my doubts wrong and he managed to sit with me through out.
I had read the reports that the play opened to a packed house on April 23, to be staged on alternate days till May 11, and had to be halted for a while due to rain just before the first interval.
Rangayana had also organised Mahanatakakke Munnudi, a curtain-raiser on April 21, for its nine-hour theatrical adaptation of Malegalalli Madhumagalu, a classic by Kuvempu.
It was an adventure for director C. Basavalingaiah. The night-long experiment with 150 characters, 58 scenes, 48 songs, and 67 actors on four adjoining stages will unveil the 750-page novel that spans a century with no apparent centre or principal characters.
When we reached Rangayana at 9 pm, the play had just begun and four people from Arjun Jogi community were narrating the plot. People, a majority of them above 60-years, were too enthusiastic to witness the show.
Writer K.Y. Narayanaswamy has adapted the novel for the theatre. It might have been a challenging task for the writer to adapt the novel, as there neither a protagonist in the novel, nor does it have an end or a beginning. They had to explore a new way to narrate the story and they zeroed in on a myth of a lost ring from the Dharmasthala hundi. According to the myth, the ring from the hundi made its journey from one person’s finger to another person’s finger. Arjun Jogi, a folk form, uses this technique, according to which the narrator passes the ring to another who then continues with the narration, and thus the story is narrated.
Folk forms such as Arjun Jogi — predominantly found in the Malnad region and traditionally known for kidnapping married women — act as the principal narrators in the play, Sudugadu Siddharu, Yelavaru, Koravanji and Siddavesha narrated the plot of the play.
The stage was set for enacting the longest drama after Peter Brook’s Mahabharata in 1985, which was also a nine-hour-long venture. The stage shifted from the conventional rules and it was an attempt to break free from the rigid rules of being fixed to a place that governs the theatre.
The stage was set in the natural precincts of the Rangayana campus, portions of which have a forest-like ambience. The sets make use of the tall trees, thick bushes and the undulations, and an artificial pond.
As the action moves, so did the audience from one stage to another like Vanaranga, Dundukana, Puthani Vana and Rangadarshini. What was surprising throughout was people were busy searching for seats during all the four intervals and were hooked to the play.
Adding another feather to the cap of Rangayana is that the play was produced in a short duration, just five months, which is not an easy task, considering that British director Peter Brook’s mega play Mahabharata had taken 13 years of production!
Hats off to art director H.K. Dwarakanath who with some modifications, converted the Rangayana premises to look like the Malnad region and to depict the Malnad region might have been one of the biggest challenges faced by him.
The characters Gutti, Thimmi, Chinnamma, Pinchulu, Aitla, Kaveri, Anthakka, Devaiah, Mukunda, Range Gowda, Padri, Nagakka, Nagatte and others were just bewitching. Gutti and his dog Huliya keep coming in almost from the beginning to the end of the play leaving a deep impression on the minds of audience. The death of Gutti’s dog touches not only the characters, but also viewers.
The audience who have read the novel would understand the play much better and I saw few people wondering about the missing links. The novel is huge and there are too many characters, a few played by the same actors, which might have naturally confused the viewers.
The complex novel that depicts the conflict between tradition and modernity, Christianity and Hinduism, love and marriage, and the individual and society in the Malnad region in the 19th century ended with a positive note that Kuvempu himself noted in the preface that nobody is important and nobody is unimportant in the work. Definitely, Rangayana and the people behind the magnum opus have broken all records in modern theatre history. The play ended at 6 am and the characters were still meandering in the minds.