A group of six artisans is trying hard to find inspiration to create a unique idol of Ganesha, the elephant god, for Ganesh Chaturthi. They create an idol. Days later, it is immersed in the sea. Next year, another idol will be created.
This opening scene is the essence of Ganapati, a seminal play by theatre collective Adishakti Laboratory for Theatre Art Research, which will be staged in the Capital on 18-19 March. “The inspiration is the life story of Ganpati itself; the story of creation, destruction and return,” says Vinay Kumar, artistic director of Adishakti.
Since its premiere show in 2000 in Auroville, Ganapati has travelled across India and the world, from Japan to Germany and the US. It was written in 1999 by Veenapani Chawla, the founder of Puducherry-based Adishakti. After her death in 2014, the production, which had been made with a grant from the India Foundation for the Arts, was put on the back-burner, only to be revived two years later. “It was a difficult time for us. But we decided to revive it. We have made changes to the script, but not killed the original one,” says Kumar.
With dialogue taking up as little as “30%” of its 70 minutes, the play “blurs lines between theatre, dance and music”. “There is no linear narrative. Veenapani always believed that communication should be more physical than verbal. In Ganapati, we tell of the birth and other stories, the myths and traditions surrounding Ganpati,” says Kumar.
In one such story, a baby elephant bumps into Lord Shiva, who is searching for his son Ganesh’s head, which he had chopped off. When the elephant learns that the boy will survive only when he gets a head within a specific time period, he offers his own.
These stories are told using physical movement and different patterns of rhythm, says Kumar, who is one of the six performers who double up as drummers in the play. Central to the creation of the rhythm is mizhavu, a bass drum which comes from Koodiyattam, Kerala’s classical dance theatre,. “Each one of the performers is well-versed in playing the mizhavu,” he says.
Ganpati, with his elephant head and pot-bellied human body, represents the acceptance of being different, says Kumar. “This play is about inclusivity and accommodation, and of helping others. His mother single-handedly created him, which questions the conformity of creation. His tale celebrates the possibility of return, of the fact that whatever has gone wrong can be corrected,” he says, adding, “There’s a lot of confusion about whether this play is a play or a music concert.”
“Come with an open mind,” he says.
Ganapati will be staged on 18-19 March, 8pm, at OddBird Theatre, 100 Feet Road, Chattarpur. Passes, Rs500. For details, visit Oddbird.org