Akshayambara is a contemporary Kannada play written and directed by Sharanya Ramaprakash. It is performed by Prasad Cherkady and Sharanya herself.
The play depicts female representation in Yakshagana which is mainly practiced by men. It questions male ownership and gender equality through the plot of ‘Draupadi Vastrapaharana’ and premiered at Ranga Shankara Theatre Festival, 2015.
How it all began
The play was developed through the INLAKS Scholarship 2014 and supported by the India Foundation for the Arts (IFA). Sharanya came up with the idea while studying Yakshagana in Udupi, Karnataka under her Guru Bannanje Sanjeeva Suvarna.
“I wanted to learn Yakshagana and was travelling to see the performances. As an art form, Yakshagana is very theatrical, it has music but it’s primarily a lot of drama. When I came back to Bangalore I realized you don’t just learn an art form, you learn a culture. And Yakshagana is intertwined with Udupi. It’s a part of how you live there” she explains.
The chief underpinnings of the dance-drama include questioning and understanding what happens when a man plays the role of a woman and vice-versa. This role reversal essentially portrays a continuous shift in power between the actors. It defies as well as explores traditions, power, morality and gender.
Language- No Barrier
The play is written and performed in Kannada but language has never been a hindrance for art lovers. “We use subtitles which are short summaries given before every scene and this gives an idea of what’s going to happen next. In Lucknow, there were a lot of Manganiyar singers who sat in the front row and watched the performance. They loved it and they got every word of it. Art speaks beyond language and we’ve really found that through this play.” The play has crossed the barriers of language and dance forms to communicate with people at a deeper level.
Support from India Foundation for Arts (IFA)
Sharanya believes that the most effective performances are delivered when that person is immersed in the medium. She also attributes the support provided by IFA as one of the key reasons for Akhayambara’s success. “If there is a way to support art, I think the way IFA does it is the way to go” she adds. They gave her a practice programme grant which enabled her to hire people, travel and make the play a reality.
Winning at Mahindra Excellence in Theatre Awards (META)
Sharanya was awarded Best Playwright at META, 2016 while her co-actor Prasad Cherkady won the Best Actor in a Lead Role (Male). When I asked her how she felt about winning this prestigious award provided there aren’t many in the field of theatre, Sharanya quickly responds “What happens in META or any other award function is the whole idea of competition. I mean how is one play better than the other? It’s very hard. You feel like a bit of a performing monkey! You’re telling them, ‘Hey! I’m not doing this because I want to win something; I’m doing this because it moves me.’ We went to META with the idea that we just wanted to perform in Delhi. META did give us a great platform. But for me performing in Udupi was most encouraging. There was not a single person with dry eyes. That kind of love and appreciation that I received was way more”
What the future looks like
When asked about the future plans for the play, Sharanya replies, “We’d love to do many more shows in the future. But it’s a huge toll on the production team. We have a very specific design that the play functions. Each time we go to perform in a different place the design has to work out. The production team works overtime to make sure that the same setting is available for the play. This has been quite a challenge for us.”
Sharanya is open to idea of taking the play to an international level and shared with us that they have received invitations from a few theatre festivals.
Akshayambara would be performed on 1st October, 2016 at Lshva Dance Studio, Bengaluru. Click here to book your tickets!