At the Sankula Theatre Institute in south Bangalore, there is chaos. In the ground-floor drawing room of a two-storey house, children, youngsters and an elderly man are creating a ruckus. They are rehearsing for a play, and the sound can be heard metres away.
Three moments stand out. During one pause in a tableau, a character exits to return in a snow-white costume—she is playing a witch. A little later, a giant-sized chariot careens out of another corner. In between two acts, in comes a person impersonating Aslan the Lion—the benevolent but exiled king in the story.
In the play, these Kannada-speaking folk are the bridge between their world and the mythical wonderland. Welcome. You are watching an Indianized version of the film The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
Photos by Aniruddha Chowdhury
“I was totally taken in when the first film in the Narnia series (The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe) came out,” says Ashok Nittur, director of the play and head of the Sankula Theatre Institute. “I was confident that my theatre group would love the challenge of creating a drama version of this as it would be totally entertaining. We knew if we could get the kids interested, then the parents and families of the kids would definitely come.” Nittur, an alumnus of the Ninasam Theatre Repertory set up by Magsaysay award-winning litterateur K.V. Subanna, has previously directed several plays, including A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and worked in the Kannada film industry. This production follows the current trend of adapting stories and books. from the West into Kannada theatre.
“The children in the play are the bridge between Narnia and the real world,” says scriptwriter and actor V. Halappa. “They are the link from the path of evil to that of good, from the outside world to the one that is hidden. That’s an important reason for us to have to done an adaptation.” Halappa, who has acted, directed and scripted several Kannada plays over the past 15 years, took six months to finish the script last year and has done some more revisions this time round.
Sankula’s Narnia debuted in May last year and met with success in the local Kannada pockets where it was staged in south Bangalore and Mysore. All the 700 seats for three weekend shows were sold out in Bangalore. This year though, Nittur and Sankula have aimed at improving the technical aspects of the show.
Costumes form a significant aspect. Nittur emphasizes that over the last 15 years of its existence, Sankula hasn’t solely been a theatre troupe. It has been deeply involved in the art and business of costume designing—often creating and supplying materials for other stage groups in Bangalore and the Kannada film industry. It runs its own unit of production and design, which is housed in Nittur’s residence, a stone’s throw from the institute.
“Around 75% of the matter in the play comes from the English film version, but we were very clear about what would click with our audience. The dialogues had to be kept to a minimum. The sets and costumes had to give a larger-than-life appeal. And more importantly, we wanted to do a play that even non-Kannadigas would follow. Therefore, many of the songs and dialogues have English words,” says Nittur.
The play had its own design demands, for it has animal characters played by people. Aslan the Lion, the exiled ruler of Narnia, is depicted in terms of a character wearing a lion mask made by Sankula. Sankula also produced a gigantic chariot which would be one of the tableau moments of the play. Swords, spears, knives and cutlasses, a throwback to medieval Europe, vivify the dramatic proceedings.
Speaking about the trend of adapting such books into Kannada theatre, senior Kannada theatre person Prakash Belawadi says: “Over the last few years, there has been a spurt in the adaptation of such novels and films (from the West) into Kannada. I have personally seen Kannada versions of Cinderella and Canterbury Tales. This play (Narnia) appears to be part of that trend,” Belawadi says. There has also been a surge in songs when it comes to popular Kannada theatre, he adds. “And here they add English words! Really, it’s an interesting time in Kannada theatre as all kinds of experiments are going on.”
Narnia, with 140 actors and a dozen songs, runs for around 2 hours. Narnia’s Kannada version isn’t an adaptation, it’s a riot.
Narnia will run at KH Kalasoudha, Hanumantha Nagar, Bangalore, at 7pm on 27-28 April and 2 May. Tickets, Rs 80 and Rs 120, avalailable at www.indianstage.in