Direction : Faezeh Jalali
Writer : Faezeh Jalali
Cast : Meher Acharia Dar, Mahnaz Damania, Vikrant Dhote, Karan Desai, Nikhil Murali and Srishti Srivastava


Deepa Punjani

No upcoming shows.

The great Indian epic Mahabharata has always lent itself to a variety of interpretations and re-imaginings of the story as a whole, as well as provided singular dissections of its myriad, striking characters, ensconced with their particular vibe and individuality. It's one of those grand narratives on which we can superimpose our contexts, our times, and even our choice of words - quite in-your-face, as in SHIKHANDI.

The sum tonality yo-yos between simple rhyme and an urban, casual Indian-English brogue, replete with Americanisms. The play, written by Faezeh Jalali (she has also directed the production), was the runner-up for the Sultan Padamsee Award for new writing last year. The NCPA, Mumbai has produced the play. Jalali's urban cool tells the story of Amba who is reborn as Shikhandi to avenge Bhishma in the Mahabharata.


Effectively, this peripheral story is used to draw our attention to the taboos associated with the LGBT community. In the process, gender stereotypes lay exposed. If Shikhandi must grapple with the 'in-between' identity to fulfill his/her role in the epic, then Draupadi, the sister, is no meek and submissive wife of the five Pandavas either. The narrative is tweaked for one purpose alone, and that is to overrun the sex-gender cliches. Even Shikandi's wife is unapologetically horny and bold while Shikhandi's interlude with the Yaksha affirms the latter's desire to be utterly and totally feminine.

The group of actors- some of them former students of the Drama School Mumbai, are an energetic bunch, switching characters as required with their choreographed moves, and some acrobatics thrown in for good measure - all the while trying hard to keep up with the rhyming lines. Yet words are lost and the writing is often clever than deep. The fragility of the script makes the exercise contrived though it tries hard to be topical in its critique. The visible effort to harmonise the production's multiple elements, ranging from word to movement, from live music to stilted aerial gymnasts (so very borrowed), makes the enterprise also laborious.

Our theatre is no stranger to the gender-bending projects it has undertaken time and again, some superlative indeed, as in the case with Satish Alekar's timeless BEGUM BARVE. More recently, a number of productions have ventured to address the prickly issues of sex and gender. They have drawn from mythology as well, and have been playful in their approach, in DUSHYANTPRIYA, in ILA and more novel in THE GENTLEMEN'S CLUB.

SHIKHANDI like its peers has a noble aim, which is to dismantle our prejudices and to laugh at them, but as it happens frequently, it succumbs to the sophistry of its own devices. Shikhandi's character becomes a mere ploy propped up by the stylistics that are completed by a revisioned quadrangle at the NCPA's Experimental theatre; simple and elegant, and bolstered by some good blocking of scenes by its feisty director, who is also a talented actress.

No ''man'' is spared in the play; even the Pandavas are lampooned, and yet the play's excruciatingly peppy language with its uber-cool approach becomes an excessive triviality. This contemporary rendition of Shikhandi is like a popular pop-chart number. It's catchy now.

*Deepa Punjani is the Editor of this website.

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