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Literature, Art, and Everything in Between—MILAP 2018

Inauguration Ceremony
Siddhant Sharma

The second edition of the Manipal International Literature and Arts Platform, the literary fest of MAHE, started with an inauguration ceremony at TMA Pai Hall in Kasturba Medical College on 6th September 2018. The room was filled with students and professors from various colleges across MAHE. The panel of chief guests included esteemed personalities such as Dr Atamjit Singh, a Punjabi playwright, and Professor HS Shivaprakash, a renowned Kannada poet and playwright.

Dr Neeta Inamdar, Head of the Department of European Studies and Chief Editor of the Manipal Universal Press, kicked off the proceedings. Speaking of how literature fests are taking place all over the country, she said, “Sixty lit fests take place every year, all over the country that’s almost one every week.” She added that after a lot of discussion about the state of freedom of expression in our country, they decided to go with ‘tradition and transformation as the theme of the fest. The panel of speakers lit the lamp to mark the beginning of the fest following her speech.

The next speaker was the Vice-Chancellor of MAHE, Dr H Vinod Bhat. He was of the belief that we must have a yearlong celebration of our freedom of expression and one gala event like MILAP every year. Soon after, Dr Atamjit Singh went up on the podium to give the inaugural address. Putting forth his views on nationalism, Dr Singh said, “It is being used as a stick against others. Nowadays, the ones who are being called anti-national are not fighting against the nation. They are fighting against that stick.”

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Picture Credits: Adesh for The Manipal Journal

Before the keynote address, two books were launched by the Manipal Universal Press—its 137th and 138th publications. The former was a handbook on Kannada history for historical plays, whereas the latter was an English translation of a Kannada book, titled “A Handful of Sesame”.

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Picture Credits: Adesh for The Manipal Journal

In the keynote address, Professor H S Shivaprakash very eloquently put forward his opinions on various issues plaguing the world. He also felt strongly about the fact that our literary and theatre historians plagiarised the European form of writing history. He believed that our ancestors, on the other hand, went beyond the binary and created something original. With his insightful speech, the inauguration ceremony came to an end.

Day 1: Kola
Kritika Batra

The artists of Theatre Tatkal troupe from Bangalore staged a drama titled ‘Kola’ at the Golden Jubilee Hall in conclusion of the first day of MILAP. Kola is the Kannada adaptation of the Marathi play ‘Magna Talyakathi’ written by Mahesh Elkunchwar and translated into Kannada by Nandini KR and Prashanth Hiremath. Directed by Achyuta Kumar, the mesmerizing play is the second part of the Wada trilogy. He formed the team of Theatre Tatkal four years ago and has directed two plays, Nanna Thangigondu Gandu Koli and Kola, under this banner.

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Picture Credits: Aayush Sinha for The Manipal Journal

Kola, which means ‘pond’ in Kannada, deals with relationships and human emotions that constantly transition with time and circumstances. The plot of the play continues the stories of the Deshpande family from the first part of the trilogy. Each generation of the family experiences different emotional struggles that many members of the audience could relate to. Set in a village, the protagonists were portrayed to be progressive but they always abided by societal norms that were a little backward. With the concept of joint families slowly fading away, the play presented the audience an insight into how doubt and betrayal can seep into and relationships and weaken family bonds. The two lead male characters in the play, Parag and Abhay, were brothers with personalities that clashed due to a difference in their upbringing. Nevertheless, they both found their peace of mind at the pond that they visited together during their childhood. Amongst all the confusion and tragedies, they learned to accept reality and change themselves and when they finally left the village they found the tranquillity that they sought at the pond within themselves.

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Picture Credits: Aayush Sinha for The Manipal Journal

The dialogue delivery was in a conversational manner and the script was packed with a bunch of hilarious one-liners that amused the audience. The costumes, gestures, and way of delivering lines were very typical of the Maharashtrian region. The lighting on stage during important scenes really brought out the intensity of emotions that the actors were conveying through their facial expressions. It was clearly evident that the play ran so smoothly because of months of practice and all the efforts put in the actors. The director of the play, Achutya Kumar, said “Since I acted in the first part of the trilogy, I know the story personally. The second part is very inspiring because all the characters are evolving and they’re trying to leap from one stage to another. It’s exactly like the journey of life where we start somewhere but end up in an entirely different place. Sometimes we succeed but if we don’t we keep trying and this loop of events keeps going on. I found this very interesting and it inspired me to direct this play.”

Day 2: Tamasha of my Memories
Shweta Gadepalli

The Manipal International Literature and Arts Platform brought together writers, artists, literary critics, and students to connect with each other as a part of several curated events over a three-day festival. One such event was the cultural evening which witnessed the participation of a wide range of theatre artists. One of the plays was ‘Tamasha of My Memories’ by Sushma Deshpande. Sushma Deshpande is an active theatre practitioner, writer, and actor who is also involved in community theatre with rural women. She aims at portraying the lives of Tamasha women through their poetry.
Tamasha is a folk art practised in Maharashtra for the last four hundred years. The play was based on the lives of artists of the Sangibari form of Tamasha, which is a musical performance which speaks of the various aspects of a man-woman relationship. Lavani performers are women from various tribes in Maharashtra who are bound by several social norms—one being that they aren’t allowed to marry. These women often tour around with their performances, have relationships, and also have children. The play focuses on the life of a Lavani performer, with Sushma Deshpande playing the pivotal role.
The play begins with a conversation between Hira, a Tamasha performer, Ratna, her daughter, and a journalist. Ratna wishes to interview her mother about her art and her life. When asked about the reason behind her sudden curiosity, Ratna explains that she has understood the value of Tamasha and the immense courage of a Tamasha performer. Hira refuses to let her story be told by someone other than her and decides to tell the story herself. She begins narrating the story to the audience. She talks about various instances and experiences of her life as a performer. She talks about her relationship with her mother who was a Tamasha performer. She also reflects on her childhood and the instances which led to her becoming a Tamasha dancer. She enacts her experiences with a film producer and various clients. She talks about the relationship with her partner, the way his death affected her, and the equation between her children and her partner. Along with the enactment, she also interjects a few Lavani performances which were complemented by live instrumental and vocal music. The development of the play is based on her relationship with various people in her life and how she was mistreated by the society.
There were a lot of humorous enactments in the play which left the audience in splits. The silken melody of Indian classical music in the background coupled with the traditional Lavani dance gave the audience the feel of an actual Lavani performance. The melodious music, graceful dance, and powerful dialogues were a delight to the audience. The play provided an insight into the difficulties faced by Tamasha performers and also shone some light on the importance of the folk art.

Day 3: Shoorpanakha—The Unseen Face
Priyana Aragula

“Indian classical dance is sustained by a profound philosophy. Form seeks to merge with the formless, motions seek to become a part of the motionless, and the dancing individual seeks to become one with the eternal dance of the cosmos.” – Nita Ambani

Manipal International Literature and Arts Platform presented ‘Shoorpanakha‘—The Unseen Face—as their last cultural evening event on day three of MILAP. Performed by Vallari Kadekar and directed by Guru Bannanje Sanjeeva Suvarna, the play was integrated with various techniques of the Yakshagana dance form and hints of other classical styles such as Odissi, Bharatanatyam, Koodiyattam, and Kalarippayattu. It showcased a masterful collaboration of theatre as well as dance and received a great response from its audience.

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Picture Credits: Aparna Shankar for The Manipal Journal

The yaksha-drama was a solo act revolving around the character of Shoorpanakha, Ravana’s sister, who is customarily delineated as an immodest and disfigured demoness in the epic Ramayana. The play was devised with the notion of pulling this supporting character into the spotlight and sharing her story with the audience. Shoorpanakha’s complexion is analyzed in multiple layers as the drama unfolds her numerous faces as a daughter, sister, mother, and finally as a woman. From the animosity felt towards her brother to the loss felt for her son and husband, this demoness was painted in a much different light than in her usual role and gained the sympathy of the audience by the end of the play.

The reputed Guru Bannanje Sanjeeva Suvarna directed this drama with a unique vision for the character and captured the emotional tumult of Shoorpanakha in a way that exuded his proficiency in the Yakshagana art form. The use of minimal props on stage was a prominent feature of his drama, as the entirety of the character was portrayed through striking facial expressions, powerful monologues and graceful dancing.

The performer Vallari Kadekar was most impressive in her presentation of Shoorpanakha. The play was a platform for her first self-written script. Becoming the extension of the director’s perception of the character, she completely immersed herself in the role during the entirety of her enactment. The energy she brought to the stage was exceptional and consistent. Her lively expressions engendered the audience to become absorbed in the play as she continued to impress with the demonstration of her expertise in theatre and dance. The fluidity in her movements, as well as her command on stage, proved to be an enrapturing performance.

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Picture Credits: Vanish Momoya for The Manipal Journal

Lights and sound take up a big role in setting the atmosphere of the venue as well as setting the tone of the stage in a drama. The change in lighting based on the character’s mood played with the undertone of the scene by either throwing shadows or soft light on the dancer based on the script. The beats of the tabla were perfectly in sync with the dancer’s steps throughout the play and supported even the slightest change in her movements. Overall, the play was very well balanced in all its aspects and portrayed a well thought out collaboration of various art forms and techniques.

Some in the audience expected differently of the play but were pleasantly surprised with the outcome nonetheless. As said by Namrata Rao, who is a second-year student of FOA, “I was expecting a performance heavily influenced by classic dancing, having very little dialogue. I loved the way the play was directed by incorporating the script and the dancing. The balance of the play was very good. I also enjoyed the representation of Shoorpanakha and found it very refreshing.” It was very apparent to see the audience leaving happy with their experience and impressed with the event. MILAP was successful in spreading awareness and love for the arts and culture through their event.