The hidden afterlife of epics: Karthika Naïr on Peter Brook’s Le Mahabharata and Until the Lions

Looking again at Peter Brook’s Le Mahabharata, the French-Indian poet says the inconsistencies taught her that creators needn’t be pushed by the identical reality whereas making artwork

Looking again at Peter Brook’s Le Mahabharatathe French-Indian poet says the inconsistencies taught her that creators needn’t be pushed by the identical reality whereas making artwork

There are scenes within the movie model of Peter Brook’s Le Mahabharata I return to, again and again; ones that I dissect at each out there platform, in print and on stage.

Take the prelude to the treacherous cube recreation. Duryodhana (Georges Corraface), freshly returned from Indraprastha and scalded with envy on the ethereal delights of Maya’s palace, plots the downfall of the Pandava brothers along with his uncle Shakuni (Tunzel Curtis). His mom Gandhari (Hélène Patarot) begs him to desist, to hunt distraction along with his wives; she reminds him of all of the blessings he enjoys.

Duryodhana’s response is a white-hot creature ablaze amidst the dancing glints of dozens of nilavilakku and thokuvilakku, His voice soars as faint drum beats collect momentum just like the heartbeat of a flailing earth. , But I would like to be discontented,’ he rages… ‘a person’s physique grows from delivery and everyone seems to be delighted; in the identical means his want grows, his want for energy.’

Each time, I’m mesmerised by this imaginative and prescient of the Kaurava crown prince: simply one of the crucial compelling and self-aware characters of the play, one who can find the exact epicentre of his personal hate, presage the results of his overarching greed, and nonetheless select to behave on his darkest impulses. With that one — nearly throwaway — sequence, Brook (along with his playwright, Jean-Claude Carrière) offers us the important thing to the unobtrusive notes that reverberate by Vyasa’s Mahabharata, I may immediately imagine why his topics would love Duryodhana and hail his reign, imagine why the Kauravas may discover much more allies than their cousins ​​at Kurukshetra, even why Bheeshma — within the final chapters of the Udyoga Parva — is given to pangs of aching love for his wayward, charismatic, grandnephew.

Mallika Sarabhai (extreme left) in the nine-hour adaptation of the Mahabharata by Peter Brook and Jean-Claude Carrire

Mallika Sarabhai (excessive left) within the nine-hour adaptation of the Mahabharata by Peter Brook and Jean-Claude Carrire | Photo Credit: The Hindu Archives

And that particular notion of Duryodhana weaves by Until the Lionsmy very own telling of the Mahabharata in 19 voices. When “my” Gandhari tells Shakuni, ‘I’d drive Time to halt, return,/ and I’d kill you myself whilst you had been nonetheless a baby,’ it’s this Duryodhana — the beloved firstborn who ‘breathes wrath’ — that she would gladly kill her brother to guard. Later within the e book, Georges Corraface’s explosive efficiency because the exacting but irresistible pal knowledgeable my portrayal of Karna’s spouse Vrishali’s preliminary mistrust and unwilling gratitude.

Balancing canons and conflicts

Then there are moments and inconsistencies in Brook’s Mahabharata that rejected, even infuriated me for years, till I noticed that one may create in retaliation, as effectively, to a murals one loves reservedly; that affect needn’t stem from acceptance or settlement alone. Satyavati, the inevitably subjective narrator of Until the Lionsis the counterpoint to an omniscient Vyasa present in myriad Mahabharatas, not solely within the Brook-ian adaptation — a place that she blazons from the outset by inverting the traces mouthed by her sage-son within the latter: ‘This will not be the entire story, nor a lyrical historical past of mankind.’ She, and the opposite protagonists of my e book, will communicate from the interstices, with no single, infallible account, for ‘reality is a beast extra wayward than time’.

I’ve a extra conflicted equation with Brook and Carrire’s characterization of Amba/Shikhandi (performed with quiet, heart-rending depth by Corinne Jaber). When it involves pure theatrical invention, my favourite is the opening scene of Part II: Exile within the Forest, The 5 Pandava brothers and their spouse Draupadi (Mallika Sarabhai) may be seen within the wilderness, when a voice shatters the silence, hailing Bhima (Mamadou Dioumé). A determine clad in black seems. It is Amba, who seeks the strongest man on the earth to slay Bheeshma, the person who destroyed her life by abducting her from her swayamvara,

Yudhishthira (Andrzej Seweryn) appears incredulous: may this actually be the legendary princess? ‘It was greater than 40 years in the past.’ Amba’s gaze — obsidian, unflinching — quells his phrases. ‘Hate retains me younger,’ she responds. Draupadi is much less sceptical. She approaches Amba, and receives, from a mild hand on her bowed head, solace and benediction.

Carole Karemera, Sean O'Callaghan, Jared McNeill and Toshi Tsuchitori in Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord's production of Battlefield, which is based on the Mahabharata

Carole Karemera, Sean O’Callaghan, Jared McNeill and Toshi Tsuchitori in Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord’s manufacturing of battlefieldwhich relies on the Mahabharata
, Photo Credit: Getty Images

Purists may discover that improper on a number of counts. After all, in accordance with the canonical tellings of the Mahabharata, Amba has killed herself in a sacrificial pyre to speed up her rebirth and revenge a number of a long time earlier. By this level within the epic, she is effectively into her new avatar as Shikhandi, Prince of Panchaal, Dhrupad’s son, and Draupadi’s sibling, in addition. How may Amba then seem earlier than them, nonetheless feminine, nonetheless in search of a champion to proper her wrongs?

Yet, with that one anachronistic reunion, collapsing timelines and narrative continuity, the play accomplishes a lot that it’s nothing wanting a dramaturgical sucker-punch. Suddenly, the ancestral roots of vengeance that may strangle the Kuru clan turn out to be seen, many rising from generations of cruelty in direction of ladies. Equally clear is Yudhishthira’s dedication to peace as the popular plan of action. Crucially, the disgrace and the ache of two memorable ladies of the epic discover speedy mirror. In this adaptation, they’re sure not by blood, however by the shared legacy of a quest for justice. Vyasa himself may applaud the freedom taken by Brook and Carrire right here, so true is it to the emotional thrust of the Mahabharata,

An important reminder

Which is why the ultimate confrontation between Bheeshma and Shikhandi about three hours later feels totally mindless. Here, Shikhandi forgets the explanations for his or her want to kill, and places down arms, unable to proceed the duel. In the strangest — and, in my eyes, most punishing — aberration to one of many epic’s most haunting tales, Amba/Shikhandi is disadvantaged of closure. It is Krishna and Arjuna who transfer in for the kill, rendering Shikhandi irrelevant.

Why? Did the choice stem from Brook’s must deal with Bheeshma’s the Aristocracy and Arjuna’s transformation right into a being enlightened sufficient to kill his beloved grandparent for the sake of higher good?

It was powerful to simply accept, however a significant reminder: we don’t should be pushed by the identical impulses, nor discover the identical reality, whereas making artwork.

Karthika Nar

Karthika Nar | Photo Credit: Mahinsha S

I wanted to seek out, and categorical, my imaginative and prescient for Amba/Shikhandi. So, in Until the Lions**, when Shikhandi confronts Bheeshma that one final time on Kurukshetra, neither Krishna nor Arjuna seems to facilitate the second of reckoning. After two lifetimes of a bond alchemised by ache and fury into an abiding devotion of types, the top is resolved fully between Bheeshma and Shikhandi, with a full recognition of the futility of the act. ‘This time, we meet — neither shall win:/ for I’ll slay you, however first, you shall watch me die,” in the latter’s words.

And I trust Peter Brook would understand that too, even as it is completely antithetical to his own telling. For, as actor Corinne Jaber said recently, her years of working with him could be encapsulated in the line, ‘All my life I walk and question’ (a response her character gives Draupadi in the play). It indicated his relentless search for truthfulness, to create a full-fledged world within the play, truthful to itself, above all. A world he could create, in her words, “anyplace, so long as there may be area, and actors, and an viewers.” Then she added, “I keep returning to the line ‘ How can death outwit death?’ from the same scene. What he leaves behind is so rich, so enormous, it transcends death.”

The author is a poet, librettist and dance producer. She is the writer of a number of books, together with the award-winning Until the Lions: Echoes from the Mahabharata ,

* The description that follows is a variation of 1 included in a paper titled True Lies (The License to Create & Kill in Adaptations) the writer offered at Presidency University Kolkata in 2017.

** Both the e book and its principal variations, Akram Khan’s 2016 dance piece and the forthcoming opera directed by Shobana Jeyasingh for Opéra nationwide du Rhin in September.

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