An elevated theme for a contemporary audience in Chitralekha                    
 - Dr. S.D. Desai

October 13, 2017

As the curtain opens on Deep Kamal Theatre’s much acclaimed Chitralekha, you find the familiar stage space (Thakorbhai Desai Hall, Ahmedabad, October 7) seeming even wider and more illumined with its resplendent dramatic sets and décor (Kanu Patel), extending right up to the innermost depths of the wings visible to viewers.  Horses of visual imagination, represented by masked young men - to appear, disappear and reappear from time to time all through - are let loose as your eyes expectantly measure the space from end to end, taking in its varied details. The Narrator (Jayraj), a professor of Hindi, conjures up the time of Gupta rule in India, which includes among others two powerful central characters, rajnartaki Chitralekha and yogi Kumargiri.

Initially, Chitralekha (Devangi Bhatt) is only on the right of the stage getting established as a varangana demonstrating the art of her ancient profession while in play with Rajkumar Beejagupta.  And, all masculine power enhanced with the radiance of his uncommon accomplishment, Kumargiri (Kamal Joshi) gets projected centre-stage with a huge symbolic shoonya, white in colour, symbolic of his philosophy, as his backdrop.  Meanwhile joyous aavartans of tarana, as much enchanting to the ears as the gradually unfolding visual images, including designs drawn with diyas in hands, as to the eyes, have set the tone.

The tone, introductory for the two dramatically contrasting moods of sensuality and of supposed control of the senses, soon turns delectably combative, which pretty satisfactorily sustains till the very engaging denouement that perhaps could have attained greater depth in the light of the import of the play’s universal theme of a conflict between love and lust, sin and virtue, attachment and detachment. A mainstream Hindi film based on the famous novel by Bhagwaticharan Verma way back in 1934 is not exactly known for subtly nuanced suggestions in its dialogue. The dramatic Gujarati version of the novel developed by Devangi Bhatt, who plays the lead role too, at times grows suggestive verbally. As director, Kamal Joshi pleasingly complements this strength with silent nonverbal visual suggestion. With stance, movement and mudras adding to the body language of the characters, Jimmy, who also plays Shvetank, makes no mean contribution to the suggestive power.

A pretty, eligible daughter of Mahasamant Vasumitra (Rajoo Barot with his clear diction), Yashodhara by name, appears like lightning and blazes the complex trail of the plot ahead in its latter half. In developments related to her unfolds a fourth, totally unexpected, angle to the theme of love and the dimension of sacrifice that lends dignity to this most cherished youthful human sentiment.  A perky teenage Mudra’s breezy entry as Yashodhara is a pleasure to watch. One wished her action and speech were more relaxed though. She has, anyway, the whole life ahead of her for a career in theatre.

With a beautiful woman’s proximity, the mighty Kumargiri falls to a carnal desire. Humiliated at being considered inferior in inner strength and attracted by the powers he radiated with, she had become a sanyasini and entered the hermitage. Disillusioned now, she returns to her love Beejagupta, which was compatible with the prevalent morality of the time. This acceptance of reality by her is a kind of enlightenment. She proves herself taller than the man who roamed with a sense of male superiority. This too is what in modern parlance we call empowerment. There is another shade in the theme of the play, which is of contemporary interest. Yashodhara’s hand was being offered to Beejagupta, who gets to know of the love the modest young man in his service, Shvetank (Jimmy) secretly had for her. Her father won’t entertain him as a worthy suitor because with no princely possessions he had a lower rank in society. Beejagupta bequeaths to him all that he has so that her father would give her to him in marriage. To him his love for Chitralekha is worth more than a kingdom and she is happy with his love exclusive of all worldly possessions.

In an ambience of rejuvenation of indigenous Gujarati theatre, viewers would cherish a jugalbandi of the dramatic skills of the couple Devangi and Kamal. Their aangik and vaachik in a spectacular setup with the theme at an elevated level, remains fairly controlled. Writer Devangi Bhatt has carried in the play the novelist’s theme well and director Kamal Joshi has delightfully employed his visual conception of the plot, the characters and the theme besides grooming all players and getting all theatre elements to contribute integrally with a feel of a total theatre.

Dr. S.D. Desai, a professor of English, has been a Performing Arts Critic for many years. Among the dance journals he has contributed to are Narthaki, Sruti, Nartanam and Attendance. His books have been published by Gujarat Sahitya Academy, Oxford University Press and Rupa. After 30 years with a national English daily, he is now a freelance art writer.