Inspired by 'Karnabharam' ('Karna's Burden'), a fragment by the ancient Sanskrit dramatist Bhasa, Ranjit Hoskote brings the epic hero Karna alive to present-day audiences as a contemporary figure driven by mixed compulsions, anxieties and convictions. Hoskote has re-crafted Bhasa's text and expanded the action of the play to include elements from the 'Mahabharata' that are not found in the original drama. The play unfolds on what will turn out to be the last day of Karna's life. It opens just before Karna proceeds into battle. He has learned from Kunti that he is her first-born, and so half-brother to the Pandavas. This knowledge, coming to him at a crucial moment, provokes memories of all the curses and misfortunes he has suffered, weighing him down. At this moment, Indra, the king of the gods, arrives to trick the warrior out of his armour of invincibility. The tragic hero's mixture of generosity and pride seals his fate.
THE LAST ANNAL OF ALAMGIR
Ranjit Hoskote's 'The Last Annal of Alamgir' is the poignant portrait of a dying emperor. Alamgir inhabits the speculative, poetic space of possibility between historical figure and fictional character. He is, and is not, the Mughal tyrant Aurangzeb: the author takes deliberate liberties with history, melding past with future to reveal the emotional undercurrents of public events. We find the powerful and cruel emperor lying under a cupola in the southern peninsula where he has spent decades fighting a defiant enemy.
We travel, with the emperor, through his life: he meditates on his obsession with power, justifies his violence. On the brink, vulnerable, Alamgir invokes his angel: a character who he refers to, but does not address directly. The angel answers his call, but this is rendered in keeping with Alamgir's convention of not speaking directly to her. An intriguing dramatic space is created for the two characters to voice their thoughts about one another.
'Aftermath' is conceived of by Ranjit Hoskote as a 'score for six voices'. The setting is an unnamed future, with a catastrophe having destroyed civilisation. In the ruins, six survivors – each damaged by these events – come upon each other. They speak to each other, not in the phrases of social civility, but in fragments of conversations or texts they half-remember, or find while rummaging around. In losing language and memory, they have lost their sense of self. It turns out they are figures from various periods and stories: Ghalib, Gandhari, Indra, Shahid, Sleeper and Lost.
Metaphors of sleep, insomnia, nightmare and awakening dominate the play, as the characters recover fragments of their personalities while trying to piece together some sense of a lost world and destroyed relationships. From the inarticulacy of circling discussion, meandering, malingering and cross talk, there develops a portrait of a society destroyed by a violence it has turned against its own.
Three Short Plays by Ranjit Hoskote Play Schedule(s)