Direction : Ajit Bhagat
Writer : Shankar Shesh
Cast : Gajanan Shetye, Vaishnavi Deshmukh and Aman Dalvi


Deepa Karmalkar

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Renowned playwright Dr Shankar Shesh's birth anniversary was celebrated recently on 2nd October with the staging of two of his plays at the NCPA. His plays are mostly inspired by the Mahabharata. They also focus on the exploitation of people in various ways. Shesh's contribution to Hindi literature is well acclaimed as his writings find a place in the prescribed syllabi of many Universities in India.

Although his mother tongue was Marathi, Dr Shesh never wrote in Marathi. So, it was a sort of poetic justice that the Shesh festival should open with one of his plays translated in Marathi. Sticking to his favourite theme of the Mahabharata, with this play, he trains his intellectual lens on Gandhari, the regent Queen of the blind King Dhritarashtra. The play tells the hitherto untold story of Gandhari, the beauteous princess of Gandhar, who was conned into marrying blind Dhritarashtra by his uncle Bheeshma.

The young bride Gandhari is dreaming about meeting her handsome groom as she approaches Hastinapur, the capital of the Kuru kingdom - but her dreams come crashing down when she learns about Dhritrashtra's blindness. Feeling cheated by her elders, she is embittered with humiliation - and in such a state of mind, she declares that she will blindfold herself and share her husband's fate as a Mahasati (pious wife). But really, was Gandhari such a self sacrificing wife? Or was she avenging the treachery by blindfolding herself? Was she so selfless or was she an egotist who redeemed herself by blindfolding herself? Did she not envy Kunti, whose sons obeyed any of her commands as opposed to her 100 unruly, disobedient sons who were so power drunk that they defied all limits of decency? Was Gandhari so selfish that she let her own sons be brought up by nannies while she fumbled around blindfolded just to establish her supremacy as Mahasati? Did she love or loathe her blind husband? These are the questions that the play poses and forces the audience to re-look the character of Gandhari with a new perspective.

This story of human follies and foibles is deftly crafted by the playwright and the issues he raises are so contemporary - the angst of a cheated bride, the repentance of a bereaved mother, etc. Vaishanvi Deshmukh essays the entire life span of Gandhari - from the excited young bride to the old and beaten mother in the battlefield of Kurukshetra with ease and grace. Likewise Gajanan Shetye plays the part of Dhritarashtra with complete conviction. Other characters - Duryodhana, Bheeshma, Sanjay, and Shakuni are well-etched by the writer. The open sets complement the narrative. The director brings forth the essence of the play through subtle nuances like Gandhari's longing to see her first-born. This is an intellectually engaging and entertaining play.

*Deepa Karmalkar is a film and theatre reviewer. She has been an entertainment journalist for over fifteen years.

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