Odysseus: The mythical hero
- Sulagna Mukhopadhyay
e-mail: sulagna64@gmail.com

February 18, 2013

Pic: Sharanay Chattopadhyay
Courtesy: Max Mueller Bhavan, Kolkata
The epic heroes possess characteristic traits like physical strength, bravery, wisdom, angst, misfortunes, that differentiate them from other characters juxtaposed in each epic. Odysseus, the central character in Homer’s epic poem The Odyssey appeals to his readers because of his amazing feats and his unbelievable struggle to return home after winning the battle against the Trojans. He was always helped by gods. When Poseidon tried to destroy Odysseus’ ship with lightning during his return journey, he was helped by goddess Ino, who gave him a magical cloak to prevent himself from drowning.

The strength of a hero like Odysseus and his toils and turmoils, his hubris, which might seem unbelievable to the modern readers inspires Felix Mathias Ott to give shape to his experimental piece Odyssey Complex. It tries to explore in a narrative style the demi-god Odysseus and tries to break through the illusions which we as readers have about the character through centuries. He gives the stück (piece) a modern interpretation showcasing that wherever and whenever a hero is born across the world, he has the same characteristics and fate.

The performance was arranged by Goethe Institut Max Mueller Bhavan, Kolkata, in collaboration with Ranan at Purple Movie Town. The studio along with its acoustics was befitting for such a show. After performing at Bangalore and Dhaka, Felix reached Kolkata with his crew for a show on January 11, 2013. He is a contemporary dancer-cum-choreographer from Berlin who has worked with artists like Krzysztof Warlikowski, the renowned contemporary Polish theatre personality.

The piece is a monologue. Felix begins the piece using Brecht’s Theory of Alienation and then gradually adopts Viktor Borisovich Schlovsky’s Other Theatre form. His prologue concerning the health hazards of the main actor and his narration of the piece creates a make-believe situation amongst the audience. He draws a circle on a white board, which is divided into two parts. This circle shows the journey of a hero from the beginning to the end. As a narrator Felix explains how in the middle of his  journey the hero meets his mentor, whose beguiled presence helps Odysseus to overcome the hurdles faced by him in his journey of life. Felix starts reading out excerpts from the script when suddenly heavy shower along with lightning and roars of thunderbolts makes the hall completely dark. The production gathers momentum at this juncture. The projection begins and the hero is seen swimming against the rough waves of the sea. The light on the centre stage gradually focuses on Felix Ott, who is completely wet and tormented by the unperceiving situation. He is lying upside down on a centre table, imitating the movements and strokes of that, reflected on the screen. The efficacy of the production lies in its synchronization of Ott’s gestures and facial expressions, with those on the screen. After meeting goddess Ino, he receives the magical cloak, takes off his wet clothes and puts it on.  On the screen we can see Ino speaking to the hero, telling him, “Your journey has just begun,” hinting at the odds he is going to face in his navigation. The magic costume protects him from all dangers he faces in his quest for inner peace and success in life. The hero, who is gathering experience in his journey, says almost at the end, “The longest journey begins with a single step.”

Odyssey Complex is a surreal experience in which the actor Felix Mathias Ott diachronically questions the existence of a hero, the experience he gathers from masses and its reflection in his lifestyle. Tech savvy Ott blends his powerful acting, his dance movements, his dialogues perfectly with the film which has been shot separately to give a complete shape to his thoughts.

Sulagna Mukhopadhyay was trained in Bharatanatyam by Guru Thankamani Kutty and Indian folk by Late Botu Pal. She has an M.A. in Comparative Literature and has freelanced for various leading newspapers of Kolkata like The Telegraph, The Statesman and Ananda Bazar Patrika. She has written articles on dance and gender issues. She is a teacher of South Point School since 1996.