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The Magic Hour

A play about the effects of Colonization, about the duality of self in the colonized, about the brokenness that results from the duality, both of the actor as well as the story telling aesthetic. It attempts to hijack Shakespeare and break it to its own purpose. The purpose is of creating a dialogue between the black and white selves both within ourselves and outside. It humorously looks at the reselling of our black selves in a white owned world. And all this done with Kathakali, Odissi, Shakespeare and the joy of performance.


Raina Weaves Magic

Date:26/01/2007 URL: stories/2007012601150300.htm Friday Review Bangalore Chennai and Tamil Nadu Thiruvananthapuram Delhi Hyderabad

ROMESH CHANDER In "The Magic Hour", presented by the Black Bakkhai Collective, Arjun Raina contextualises the traditional dance theatre in a precise, effective and powerful way.

Raina Weaves Magic

WELL-EXPRESSED A scene from the dance-drama "The magic Hour". In the last few days of National School of Drama's just-concluded Bharat Rang Mahotsav we had yet another presentation in the dance-drama category titled "The Magic Hour" presented by the Black Bakkhai Collective, Delhi. It was directed and designed by Arjun Raina. Dance theatre, at least in India, is not new. It is at the root of the Indian performative expression and is not a new phenomenon. From Mudiyettu to Kudiattam to Tamasha or to any form of trance possession, the dancer and the dance is an integral part of the process of transformation and its expression and this is exactly what is revived and brought into the forefront in Arjun Raina's "Magic Hour". Powerful way What Raina has been able to achieve is to contextualise the traditional dance theatre in a precise, effective and powerful way. For instance, it is not important that Othello is being danced in Kathakali form but that he is using the skills of a Kathakali dancer to express emotions of a maddened Othello. It is this ability to dance human emotions and feel that is at the roots of Indian Dance Theatre. Raina has been doing it right from the beginning for the last 10-12 years. And his search for emotional wholeness and its effective expression changes from scene to scene in "The Magic Hour". One wishes Arjun Raina was at the seminar on "Theatre: Marketing/Remarking Traditions" to make his valuable contribution of his approach to contemporary dance theatre. Good idea As we move along we have Desdemona (Monica Singh) dancing for a black Othello and Odissi dancer dancing for a black Jagannath. A good idea indeed particularly when she has the youthful power and strength as a dancer that suits Desdemona's character perfectly. Desdemona's dance is followed by Iago's dance of hate that Raina performs himself with disgust as the central emotion on his face. He grunts and makes animal sound traditionally used to project the evil within the character. The sound and the steps that Raina projects make a very effective Iago. We next meet Peter Pillai a split personality who is half British and half Indian. He gives a very delightful lecture demonstration of the nine bhavas which are at the core of traditional dance theatre. The Othello death sequence follows with its powerful drumming keeping the audience at the edge of their seats. But then Raina stops the show and says, "We are not doing this kind of murder mystery in modern India. For me Othello is not a naive blackman as Shakespeare had depicted him. Nor is he brutal for not letting Desdemona say even a last prayer before killing her. In Shakespeare's Othello, lago survives while Othello dies and so does Desdemona and this is primarily because in Shakespeare's theatre he dare not show a white man being killed."

Raina Weaves Magic

Arjun Raina contextualises his performance in today's world with a video documentation of a battle scene where for the first time a white lago is killed - this brings to completion yet another theme of the play - The "Muslim Othello" warring with the Christian Iago. "The Magic Hour" achieved the joy and rasa, the promise of a successful Indian Dance Theatre performance. © Copyright 2000 - 2006 The Hindu

Date:10/11/2006 URL: stories/2006111000430200.htm Friday Review Bangalore Chennai and Tamil Nadu Thiruvananthapuram Delhi Hyderabad

Interpreting Shakespeare

LEENA CHANDRAN `KhelKali,' an experimental mix of Kathakali and Shakespeare, expresses a new theatrical voice.

`KhelKali' is a mix of stories and texts of Shakespeare and the style and theatricality of Kathakali.

Photo: S. Mahinsha

CREATIVE FUSION: Arjun Raina has created his own histrionic style to comment on contemporary events. Internationally acclaimed stage actor and writer Arjun Raina has his own histrionic style to comment on contemporary socio-political situations. `KhelKali,' an experimental mix of Kathakali and Shakespeare, is Raina's mouthpiece for expressing a new authentic theatrical voice. Also famous for playing the title role in `In which Annie gives it those Ones,' a film written by Arundhati Roy and directed by Pradip Krishen, Raina is a Shakespeare specialist who has his own interpretation of the bard's plays. Mix of stories A product of London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, Raina creates stage shows that impart post-colonial counter-texts for classics. His masterpiece `KhelKali' is a mix of stories and texts of Shakespeare enacted through the style and theatricality of Kathakali. Shakespeare's `Othello' and `A Midsummer Night's Dream' are part of the `KhelKali' repertoire. The KhelKali piece `The Magic Hour' incorporates magic realism through dance theatre by combining two stories of William Shakespeare - `Othello' and `A Midsummer Night's Dream' - with scenes from famous Kathakali plays. Texts and scenes from Shakespeare are spoken and enacted through the theatricality of Kathakali. KhelKali's political intent bases itself on the story of Oberon and Titania's fight over a little Indian boy in Shakespeare's `A Midsummer Night's Dream.' In Shakespeare's `Othello,' the protagonist lives and works as a coloured man in a white society. The abduction and rape of a little Indian princess by the great white fairy King Oberon is one of the many threads in Raina's version of `A Midsummer Night's Dream.' The story also features the transformation of an ordinary weaver Bottom into an ass. Raine tries to interpret these literary creations through the looking glass of post-colonial reality. In `The Magic Hour,' Iago, the villain of `Othello,' is killed for the first time in history to mark the post-colonial twist. The fight between Othello and Iago is depicted by reproducing, in Kathakali, the duel between Bhima and Dushassana. Shakespeare ends his play with Othello, the moor, dead and Iago, the white man, let free. Raine interprets it as an `imperialist attempt' to preserve the racial superiority of the white man.

Apt combination Through innovative theatrical devices, KhelKali helps the audience experience the astonishing world of medieval Indian theatre. As a narrator-oriented show, it provides great scope in overcoming all kinds of theatrical hurdles. It also allows a handsome combination of artistes and art forms. The Odyssey dance moments that provide a romantic touch to `The Magic Hour' are rendered by Monica Singh, a disciple of veterans like Kelucharan Mahapatra, Madhavi Mudgal and Sonal Mansingh. Evoor Rajendran Pillai furnished the Kathakali component, enacting padas composed specially for `Magic Hour' by Raina's Kathakali guru Sadanam Balakrishnan. `The Magic Hour' was performed as part of the third Ajayan memorial, organised by Abhinaya theatre group. © Copyright 2000 - 2006 The Hindu

The Bard Has Flown

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Web| Mar 20, 2007 Malludrama

The Bard Has Flown

Formally trained as both a Shakespearean actor and a Kathakali dancer, he fuses the two classical forms into his own style, Khelkali, which he uses to take aim at power and invert it.


The whippings that Arjun Raina received at St Columbus School did not turn him, in the long run, into an obedient man. Formally trained as both a Shakespearean actor and a Kathakali dancer, he fuses the two classical forms into his own style, Khelkali, which he uses to take aim at power and invert it. In A Midsummer Night's Dream, Oberon and Titania fight over a little Indian boy from the Malabar Coast, a Kerala prince. In his Khelkali performance, The Magic Hour, Raina wrings the colonial compliance out of that scene. He also treats Othello to a heavy dose of anticolonial medicine--strong enough to kill Iago instead of the Moor. "The naïve, noble savage wasn't a worthy place to be. Shakespeare couldn't show a white man being killed on stage--not by a black man. So we must symbolically kill Iago one time, and have that on record." It takes a green-masked man to not beware the green-eyed monster. True or false: you began directing yourself because you thought there weren't any good directors in India? No, what I'm doing is freeing myself from the whole idea of direction, so there is only a process of creation. It counters the feudal view of performance, that it has one king, the director or the audience, for whom the whole performance is intended. So you disaggregate an audience to dethrone it? I dislike the aesthetic of making a vast audience become one person. A freer way is not to experience anything through one person, to sustain a multiplicity of responses. Then you can exercise power over them, you can play, you can mock, you can tease. What about the affinity between Shakespeare and Kathakali? At the same time Shakespeare was writing, the Kerala princes were creating Kathakali. In both worlds hierarchy and form were very important-- rhythm and body, rhythm and word, iambic pentameter and paalam. You can take it from those larger brushstrokes of similarity to more playful specifics. Imagine the little Malabar prince in A Midsummer Night's Dream growing up to create Kathakali. There are these fragile and magical links. What makes Shakespeare such good critical material? He has a place in the civil order. Shakespeare hijacks people's attention. So does the arrogance of speaking English in a fantastic, aggressively self-confident way. For Shake-speare, the Oriental was magical, the Indian was magical--The Magic Hour has to grab attention and then invert all of that. So you play Caliban to Shakespeare? It's more like Caliban performing Shakespeare and playing the role of Prospero. But at the same time, what he doesn't forget is that the island is magical--though it isn't Prospero's version of magic but his own.





© Outlook Publishing (India) Private Limited

Laokoon Festival

Flash Review 2, 9-19: No Rest for the Audience Shadow Puppets, No-bodies, and More at the Laokoon Fest By Bettina Preuschoff Copyright 2002 Bettina Preuschoff HAMBURG -- For this year's Laokoon Festival, director Hidenaga Otori chose the theme "History and memory in the era of globalization." The result was a fabulous program that, notwithstanding the presence of Pina Bausch and Sasha Waltz, shone without the usual international festival stars, Otori instead inviting artists best known in their own countries. The 10 troupes came from Indonesia, Australia, India, Japan, the USA, Great Britain, Switzerland and, last but not least, Germany. Next, we were off to see Arjun Raina's "The Magic Hour." Raina, from India, has developed his own form of theater, "Khelkali." It's sprayed with a mix of forms based on the traditional Kathakali - Temple dance and on contemporary styles that inspired Raina as he was theatrically schooled in London. He confronts certain passages from Shakepeare's'"Othello" and "A Midsummer Night's Dream" with Indian dance forms. Occasionally stepping outside the action to comment on the absurdity of this confrontation, Raina seems to be winking and smiling inside. The way he regards an audience is so intense that, more than once, I had the feeling of not being able any more to breath. For about 75 minutes, Arjun Raina gave a strong solo performance, kidnapping the spectator into an unknown and imaginative world.

WELT ONLINE - Shakespeare war Inder, behauptet sein neuer Erfinder - Nachrichten print-welt

26. August 2002, 00:00 Uhr

Von ik

Shakespeare war Inder, behauptet sein neuer Erfinder

Der "Sommernachtstraum" auf indisch

Arjun Raina ist nicht nur ein begnadeter Schauspieler und versierter Tänzer, sondern vor allem ein charmanter, amüsanter Entertainer. Und ein Schlitzohr. Subtil entführt er uns zielbewusst auf jenes unsichere Terrain, auf dem die Magie des Theaters in absurder Weise kulturelle Realitäten und Glaubensbekenntnisse bloßlegt. Zwar ist der Inder Arjun Raina viel zu klug, um den politisch korrekten Zeigefinger zu heben, dennoch wirkt sein Solo "The Magic Hour", das jetzt bei Laokoon auf Kampnagel Europapremiere hatte, in gewisser Weise als Lehrstück. Die magische Stunde legt die Struktur und Motive des indischen Tanzes Kathakali in beeindruckender Weise offen. Und wenn Arjun Raina im prachtvollen Tanzkostüm aus der Mitte seines Körpers heraus, begleitet vom Stampfen seiner Füße Shakespeare deklamiert, dann klingt das nach hoher englischer Schule. In England hat Raina Schauspiel studiert, später dann in Indien den Kathakali-Tanz. Vor dem Hintergrund des heutigen, postkolonialen Indien begegnen sich die beiden zeitgleich entstandenen Traditionen auf seiner Bühne. Sein "Sommernachtstraum" entführt in den Wald von Kerala, wo Affengott Hanuman sich listig einem Blumen suchenden Esel in den Weg legt. Mühelos wechselt Raina die Rollen. Manchmal reicht ihm ein Augenzwinkern, um sich vom Krieger in ein kokettes Fräulein zu verwandeln. Und dann ist er wieder Mr. Peter Pillai, halb Brite, halb Inder, der seine Zuschauer gewitzt in die hybriden Verflechtungen seiner Kunst, die er Khelkali nennt, einweiht. Phänomenal ist sein Othello. Mit ausgebreiteten Armen steht er da, den Krummsäbel in der Hand, legt er all seine Wut und Eifersucht in ein Zucken der Mundwinkel unter der Halbmaske, in eine Woge, die durch sein Becken geht. In dieser konzentrierten Reduktion gelingt ihm eine Lässigkeit, die als beispielhaftes Gegenstück zur heute verbreiteten Coolness gelten darf.

Shakespeare was an Indian - his new inventor suggests


Shakespeare was an Indian - his new inventor suggests Arjun Raina is not only an exceptionally gifted actor and experienced dancer but first of all a charming and amusing entertainer. And a chiseller. Subtly and purposefully he abducts us to this insecure terrain on which theatre's magic farcically exposes cultural realities and credos. In fact, Indian Arjun Raina is far too smart to lift a politically correct index finger but still his solo `The Magic hour', which premiered in Europe on Kampnagel's summer-festival Laokoon can somehow have a lasting effect as a didactic play. The Magic Hour impressively reveals structures and motives of the Indian dance Kathakali. And the moment Arjun Raina declaims Shakespeare from the middle of his body, dressed in a resplendent dance costume, accompanied by the stamping of his feet, it really sounds like high class English school. In England, Raina studied acting, later in India he learned Kathakali. Against the background of today's postcolonial India, traditions that developed during the same time meet on his stage. His `A Mid Summer Night's Dream' leads us into the forest of Kerala where Ape God Hanuman cunningly blocks the way of a donkey in search of flowers. Without difficulty, Raina changes roles. Sometimes a wink is enough for him to transform himself from a warrior into a coquettish woman. And then again he is Peter Pillai, half British, half Indian, who wittily inaugurates the audience into the hybrid complexity of his art, he calls Khelkali. His Othello is phenomenal. With outstretched arm he stands, a scimitar in his hands, and puts all his fury and jealousy in a twitching corner of his mouth, hidden under his half-mask, or in a wave that goes through his pelvis. With this concentrated reduction he succeeds in evoking a nonchalance that passes for an exemplary counterpart to today's widespread coolness.

When West and East Affiliate


When West and East Affiliate

Von Klaus Witzeling Hamburg ... Indian Kathakali artist Arjun Raina also rotates between two language and two identities in his comical dance-text-solo 'The Magic Hour'. His performance does not remain an hermetic virtuoso-play in typical historical resplendent robes but gives the viewers an understanding of the old traditional Indian dance - by means of a little dictionary of feelings and texts by Shakespeare: Raina translates verses from Othello into mimic and mudra finger language. He stomps Bottom's dream, reveals connections between myths and cultures, and therewith proves: expression art is universally understandable. 26. August 2002 - Artikel drucken - Artikel vom 26.08.2002

Translated... It would not be easier for Othello today DAGMAR FISCHER Laokoon : Arjun Raina dances Shakespeare His facial makeup is green, his forehead yellow, his mouth red and thick black bars define his eyes: Arjun Raina, indian artist in western clothing, unites in 'The Magic Hour' eastern and western stage art. When he combines the centuries old dance from his home country Kathakali with extracts from Shakespeare's 'A Mid-summer Night's Dream' and 'Othello', Raina is an entertainer in the word's best sense... The solo performance is almost like a self-imposed ordeal, Arjun Raina himself turns into a brilliant intermediary between the cultures

Von Stefan Grund 27. August 2002, 00:00 Uhr


Das Laokoon-Fest auf Kampnagel

Der indische Tänzer und Schauspieler Arjun Raina, der in England Schauspiel und in Indien den Kathakali-Tanz studierte, erfindet in seinem Stück "The Magic Hour" Shakespearestücke und - helden in einem zauberhaften Bilderbogen neu. Rainas Othello braucht nicht viele Worte: Mit einem Zucken des Mundwinkels, einer Beckenbewegung führt er eine ganze Tragödie vor Augen...

achrichten print-welt

Transalated In his play 'The Magic Hour', Indian dancer and actor Arjun Raina, who studied acting in England and Kathakali dance in India reinvents Shakespeare dramas and heroes, and transforms them into a most enchanting picture book. Raina's Othello does not need many words: with a twitch of the corner of his mouth and a movement of his pelvis he makes clear a whole traged

taz 28.8.2002 Präzise Reduktion

Präzise Reduktion

Arjun Rainas Soloperformance "The Magic Hour" auf Kampnagel bewegte sich geschickt zwischen indischem Tanz und britischer Schauspielschule von MARGA WOLFF Arjun Raina ist nicht nur ein begnadeter Schauspieler und versierter Tänzer, sondern vor allem ein charmanter, amüsanter Entertainer. Und noch dazu ein Schlitzohr. Subtil, doch zielgenau entführt er auf jenes unsichere Terrain, auf dem die Magie des Theaters in absurder Weise kulturelle Realitäten und Glaubensbekenntnisse bloßlegt. Doch Arjun Raina ist viel zu klug, um den moralischen Zeigefinger zu heben. Dennoch folgt das Solo des indischen Performers The Magic Hour in gewisser Weise den Regeln eines Lehrstücks. Eines, das Struktur und Motive des indischen Tanzes Kathakali in beeindruckender Weise offenlegt, über Rhythmus und Form ganz plastisch zur Artikulation findet. Wenn Arjun Raina im schweren, prachtvollen Tanzkostüm aus der Mitte seines Körpers heraus, begleitet vom Stampfen seiner Füße, Shakespeare deklamiert, dann klingt das nach hoher englischer Schule. In England hat Raina Schauspiel studiert, später dann in Indien den Kathakali-Tanz. Beim Laokoon Sommerfestival auf Kampnagel war er jetzt zum ersten Mal in Europa zu Gast. Vor dem Hintergrund des heutigen, postkolonialen Indien begegnen sich auf seiner Bühne die beiden zeitgleich entstandenen Traditionen. Sein Sommernachtstraum verlegt den Wald des elisabethanischen Stücks von Athen nach Kerala. Dort legt sich derAffengott Hanuman listig dem Blumen suchenden Bhima in den Weg und erklärt den tumben "Mahabharata"-Krieger schlichtweg zum Esel. Anschließend tanzt Raina einen Esel, setzt sich dazu einen Pappkopf auf. Es ist ein zögernder, stockender, bizarrer und recht sparsamer Tanz. Niemals wird er zur Parodie. Raina versucht auf ganz subversive Art und Weise, und auch mit Hilfe ganz konkreter Anspielungen, über die Form an einen Geist zu rühren, der eine tiefe Humanität anspricht, und trotz Ironie mitunter die Verletzungen spürbar werden lässt, die der Kolonianismus den Menschen in seiner Heimat zugefügt hat. Mühelos wechselt Raina die Rollen, spielt gekonnt mit der expressiven Mimik seines stark geschminkten Gesichts. Sein Mund vollführt die seltsamsten mampfenden Verrenkungen. Tiere liegen ihm besonders, und im Kathakali, dem ursprünglichen Tempeltanz und späteren Volksschauspiel, haben sie ihren festen Platz. Gefühl und Gestik paaren sich - ausgemalt durch die Poesie seiner Worte - wenn der Mimenkünstler sich anrührend komisch und beeindruckend anschaulich in tierisch-menschliche Zustände

The Daily Illini Online published 09/25/00

India meets Shakespeare at Smith Memorial Hall

by Tracy Yoshida Contributing writer "Dancing Across Boundaries: Kathakali, Shakespeare and Folk Performances" integrated the traditional Kathakali dance-theatre from Kerala, India, with Shakespeare and contemporary issues Thursday in Smith Memorial Hall. The performance opened with a brief lecture by English professor Ania Loomba. Loomba explained traditional Kathakali, a dance-theatre that focuses on battles between good and demonic figures. She also discussed the important role William Shakespeare had on the development of Indian culture and Kathakali's close relationship with contemporary issues in post-colonial India. "Arjun Raina is an enormously respected and innovative theatre actor and has directed and acted in over 100 theatre performances in India, both in English as well as Hindi," Loomba said. Dressed in a colorful and elaborate costume, Arjun Raina expressed his emotions using over 500 facial, eye and hand gestures that could be viewed even near the back of the auditorium. Raina's face was painted green, and his bright red lips trembled with anger and smiled with happiness. Raina and other performers demonstrated Shakespeare's Othello and A Midsummer Night's Dream through traditional Kathakali. The actors also performed classical pieces from the Mahabharata and concluded the program with contemporary environmental issues, such as the destruction of a forest. Positive interaction with the audience existed throughout the entire performance. After Raina danced to the powerful drum beat of the Indian music, and used expressive facial and body gestures, he explained Kathakali to the audience. Raina taught the audience that various placements of the same arm position can represent several significant concepts, such as the earth and the king. Through this type of unique sign language, Raina told elaborate stories of love, betrayal and revenge. "Why are these Indians doing Shakespeare?" asked Raina. Raina took off his intricately decorated head piece to joke around with the audience. Raina and the other performers educated the audience with elaborate costumes, traditional Kathakali dance-theatre and cross-cultural enlightenment

© 2000 Illini Media Company, all rights reserved.

The Hindu : Fine blend of drama and dance

Online edition of India's National Newspaper Friday, Dec 14, 2001


Published on Friday

Fine blend of drama and dance

SHAKESPEARE AND Kathakali? Strange combination? Not really when you think of the dramatic elements in both. The play of emotions, the feel for theatrics and the same sense of the positive winning over the negative. In this case since it was featured in The Other Festival there was this edge over the ordinary. It was in the realm of the explorative and that was what it was meant to do in the first place. And so this venture became Khelkali (December 3, at the Museum Theatre) where the style of Kathakali was juxtaposed with Shakespeare's text and stories, in this case ``Othello" and ``A Midsummer Night's Dream," to present a rather well knit exercise in drama and dance. And it was most enjoyable. Arjun Raina is a trained actor from the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. And he is also a Kathakali dancer traimed by Guru Sadanam Balakrishnan. And if these are not qualifications enough he also teaches voice and acting at the National School of Drama, New Delhi. In addition, he has also played Annie in the film ``In Which Annie Gives It Those Ones.'' With such a background there was no way it would not be a fruitful one-hour. The story telling part was made lighthearted with Raina's comments and on the spot cracks that ranged from the mundane to the most philosophical. He used the Shakespearean comedy to weave it along with a story from Kerala - all set in the forest for that unity and went on to the legend/story of Bhima and Anjaneya. The play of words and characters blended in a strange synergy, with Anjaneya calling Bhima an ass and then playing out the asses dance that could only remind one of Shakespeare, Oberon, Titania, and Puck. And when the big, burly Raina finished you almost wished he would go on and draw out some more of these.

The Hindu : Fine blend of drama and dance

Dialogue in silence A Sound Of Silence and there was more to that on December 4 featured at The Other Festival. There was the space that was filled with people, artists and the music that made the evening productive for those in search of art forms that are out of the box. May not be something that one is used to but the thought that there is space to experiment is something that can be rather heady. In this case it was the Samudra Center for Performing Arts, Thiruvanathapuram that went into a dialogue between movement and sound, body and soul tradition and modernity to bring out a contemporary work about the life force governing each individual. Featuring Madhu Gopinath, Vakkom Sajeev and Kalamandalam Anand, the founders of Samudra, it began with the Gayathri Mantra, which set the mood of introspection and silence. Within the sounds there was an inherent silence, which could be felt, right from the movements that seemed to slice through the stark stage to one of the artistes swinging by a rope in an ode to creation. A sloka from the Soundaryalahari, Asatoma Sat Gamaya, and the live music that followed showed that what the mind visualises the body could create. Complete control over the movements made the body seem most pliable. From the beginning there is nothing. In fact from the sound the silence emerges and there is birth- there is creation and then there is the growth. Initially the woman is filled with love and is an object of love till such time she moves on to becoming an object of power for herself and for the others. Then comes the sensuality of the male and female till such time there is an end while the soul still lives on. In other words the life chakra or the wheel of life. All these were explained further after the session to an audience that wanted answers. And as one of the performers said, ``We create our own movements, we move like the waves. While it may seem like gymnastics or plain exercises there is motive behind each step, each movement. We are saying something through every piece of choreography.''

The Hindu : Fine blend of drama and dance

Truths about life The mundanity of routine, the inevitability of life, and the passing of years were given its due in Schisgal's ``The typists" a play by Atul Kumar, Mumbai. In the style of the absurd the tragic elements are left to the audience to sift through to take home some truths about life. Two typists are caught in the routine without much hope of achieving all that they dream of. Fine cars, big house, parties and the bright lights of glamour. Those are the distant dreams but the reality is the pile of paper left to type out and the two rattling typewriters. (Something set couple of years ago. For today computers have made their appearance and are replacing the good old typewriter.) In that sense the magnitude of the dull life looms large and the two typists, a rapidly middle aging woman Sylvia and a youngish man Paul, trying to break free, are caught together in a relationship that endures through the years. Years that are set by the clock and the routine. Through it all they try to be each other's analyst, but all can be said but can it be changed? Playing Paul and Sylvia were Zafar Karachiwalla and Yuki Ellias- both obviously slipping into their roles with perfect zest and the tragi-comic manner of delivering the lines were rather captivating. Atul Kumar has been in theatre as an actor and director for over 18 years and has worked extensively with Compagnie Philippe Genty in Paris and the Sacramento Theatre Company, California. He is also president of the company theatre and director of EVAM, the International Center for Performing Arts, Lonavla, where all visual and performing artistes can practise and research independently and in collaboration with other related fields. CHITRA MAHESH

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Spirits in Many Voices A. H. Arjun Raina and Monica Singh performed The Magic Hour (written and directed by Arjun Raina) and Arjun Raina performed A Terrible Beauty is Born (written and directed by Arjun Raina) on November 7 as part of the fortnight-long Ranga Shankara Theatre Festival held in Bangalore. I'd like the spirits to come down during a performance, said Arjun Raina in answer to an audience question about his play A Terrible Beauty is Born. Why do you use video in your play? someone had asked. Isn't theatre about human beings interacting with other human beings on a stage? We are magicians, Raina's answer seemed to imply, and what is a mere video screen except another of the conjurer's handkerchiefs? Don't be misled by it; concentrate on the magic. It was easy to concentrate on the magic, despite or maybe because of the fact that the performances were as much about the magicians themselves as the magic they stirred up. The Magic Hour was a delightful concatenation of Othello-cum-Iago in Kathakali costume, Mr. Shakespeare, old Hindi film music, Odissi dance, a character called Peter Pillai, and a half-Russian, half-Haryanvi Desdemona. It began with seemingly straightforward intent: Kathakali performer Arjun Raina enacting bits of Othello. The lines seemed to acquire a tensile strength in his mouth, and with the wildly expressive dance of the face muscles, Othello's simple reverence began to sound like some richly-wrought poem, its ironies glinting dangerously: `Rude am I in my speech, / And little blest with the soft phrase of peace;/ For since these arms of mine had seven years' pith, / Till now some nine moons wasted, they have used/ Their dearest action in the tented field, / And little of this great world can I speak ...' But it's no longer possible to just play Shakespeare, Raina very soon appears to imply, even if one does it in the language of Kathakali, even if one intersperses it with innovations like an Odissi dancer in a creepy mask, which suddenly introduced an impersonal, even sinister, element into the incredible grace of the form. So we meet Mr. Peter Pillai, the Kathakali artist with the cute Malayali accent, who


travels the world and is always asked in Britain and America ­ Mr. Pillai, how come you are speaking so good English? They don't know that as a child, Mr. Pillai's father taught him the alliterative `Peter Piper' chant. We meet Monica Singh playing herself, telling us how growing up in Russia she was considered a `blackie' but back in her father's Haryana everyone knew that someone as fair as her would never have trouble finding a husband. She remembers bowing to her Russian grandmother's Koran, yet learning to dance to love-songs invoking Krishna in her Odissi classes. This is a sort of colonial moment in the play, after which comes the post-colonial act of the empire striking back or the subaltern speaking up (or whatever it's called!). What nonsense Mr. Shakespeare is writing, says Mr. Pillai, after the particularly wrenching lines that accompany Othello's stabbing of Desdemona: `O, balmy breath, that dost almost persuade/ Justice to break her sword! One more, one more;/be thus when thou art dead, and I will kill thee, /And love thee after.' The evil but white Iago is not killed on stage, while black and largely blameless Othello must die by his own hand. Why? Why does Mr. Shakespeare shrink from finishing off a white man on stage? Mr. Pillai would like to redress this but cannot. Raina redresses another injustice in return. As Othello is stabbing her, Desdemona asks to say one last prayer. Othello denies it to her and has been denying it to her for the last four hundred years. This time, however, Desdemona will be allowed her prayer, and she performs it in an extended and wonderful finale. The second play of the evening moves the action to New York and Gurgaon but the anxieties are the same ­ our having to speak in voices we are good at imitating but unable to fully make our own, and the curse of always having to view ourselves from the outside, with the eyes of the West. The story brings together an American (possibly black) woman named Elizabeth whose daughter has gone missing in the attacks on the World Trade Centre, and Ashok Mathur, a call centre employee wilting beneath the identity of a John Small. Raina's portrayal of Elizabeth ­ relying entirely on oral performance ­ is an act of sustained brilliance. This is not merely about mimicking an American accent but conjuring up (yes, magic again) a whole life and a world-view to match it. Elizabeth is so recognizably American in idiom, in outlook, in moral sense, in grief, in humour, in taste (right down to her awe at how the leaves on trees outside her house turn a deep red in autumn) that in his playing of her, Raina, perhaps unwittingly, reinforces the play's central premise ­ we live inside the skin of the West, whether we do it consciously and with irony, or unhappily and by force of circumstance. Ashok Mathur is, surprisingly, a more anonymous figure, although we do get to know through grainy video clips that he lives in old Delhi and stops speaking English as soon as he crosses Ajmeri Gate each morning on his way back from his night job. Ashok comes to Elizabeth's help, and even though he does it in his role as John Small, one gathers that this act of kindness redeems him in some way, makes the charade he must live through seem less absurd. The play is ostensibly written in criticism of call centres but its final resolution is more inspiring than angry. If a greater part of the story were centered on the call centre, there might have been room for going into the ramifications of sustaining an American accent


for several hours a day (or night), while pretending to be someone one is not, not to mention the unpleasant job of alternately wheedling and threatening strangers to pay up what they owe the credit card company. As it is, the American side of the story takes over and it becomes a matter of great concern to us whether Elizabeth will find her daughter. In the face of this emergency Mathur's ruminations on how the fan in his room sometimes seems to turn from a three-bladed Indian one to a four-bladed American one are somewhat inconsequential. This is ultimately a moving play, however, and though there are loose ends (a call-centre employee's suicide remains strangely peripheral to the story), the spirits do come down. A. H. is a writer and may be reached at [email protected]

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