Since its first show on 23 April at Mysore’s theatre institute Rangayana, Malegalalli Madumagalu has been seen by over 7,000 people. It’s an impressive number for several reasons. The play hasn’t travelled outside Mysore, is 9 hours long and is a result of just six months of production and rehearsal. Director C. Basavalingaiah, a former National School of Drama graduate, is both surprised and happy. “When we were still in production, my actors, though excited about the project, joked that I will be the only person in the audience watching the play,” he says.
Based on a 750-page novel by Karnataka’s most renowned author, Kuvempu, the play uses traditional narrators to string the story that has several subplots, 150 characters, 58 scenes, 48 songs and 67 actors. Divided into four parts, with a break every 2 hours, each part takes place on a different stage. “The audience moves during each 20-minute break to a different stage. Unlike a closed auditorium, this is open-air, exactly the way traditional Indian plays have been performed for centuries,” says the director. The play begins at 9pm and runs till 6am.
Photo by Veena Narasasetty
Basavalingaiah began the project in an attempt to bring back to the state the richness of Kannada, the beauty of a well-woven story, and the intricate culture of Karnataka’s Malnad region, where the novel is based. “I wanted to see if today’s young, who are used to reality TV and bad serial scripts, will sit through a 9-hour play. They not only came from different cities, they stayed, liked it and asked for more,” he says, sounding overwhelmed.
The play is being compared with Peter Brook’s 1985 production of Mahabharat that also ran for a full 9 hours. But unlike Brook’s masterpiece, Malegalalli Madumagalu will not travel. Basavalingaiah believes that people who are interested will travel. “And they have,” he says, adding modestly, “the play is not good enough to travel”.
Scheduled to run on alternate nights till 11 May, the play has run to packed houses till date, forcing the team to add more show dates. Malegalalli Madumagalu will have two more shows on 19 and 21 May. While online bookings are closed, you can buy tickets at Rangayana at 3.30pm on the day of the show.
Rangayana, Kalamandira Complex, Vinoba Road, Mysore. For details, call 0821-2512639.