Monday, May 9, 2005

Madhavi solo play by Rashi Bunny

Solo By Rashi Bunny
directed by Arvind Gaur
based on Bhishma Sahni's play
Solo play Madhavi By Rashi Bunny
Why Madhavi
A story based on character older than 5000 years. And still alive…
A Madhavi, who lives in a society that thrives under the auspicious umbrella of ever-forgiving religion and traditions. The norms, the rules of a society that have only changed names from Madhavi to Mansi or Mona. Theories not documented on paper but in the closed minds of society, and practices only made modern but still the same. Daughter is wedded and father performs the sacred rites of “Kanyadan”. Still a “Daan” or donation. Yayati gives away Madhavi because that’s what his “duty” binds him to do. Madhavi stands amidst the keen stares of men in King Haryasch’s court where the kingdom’s astrologer weighs upon Madhavi’s body - her statistics, skin, shapes… How different is any matrimonial add of today’s national news papers? Lecherous Divodas accepts Madhavi because she is prolific son–generating machine. A son is still considered a choicest choice. Galav markets her professionally and stoically.
A woman of beauty and intelligence born with unique gifts and special abilities spends her entire life in abiding by and standing for the secret promises, vows, desires and aspirations of the man who fathered her, the man she loved and men whom she consummated without marriage. Each man utilized her for his selfish interests in the name of “Dharma”. They framed her youth, beauty, sincerity and devotion and painted the colors of their desires and ambitions on the canvas of her fading individuality. They used her boons to avail their interest and she kept on giving and yielding and sacrificing for the sake of respect, love or plain duty. “Dharma” is, you see, the umbrella under which all wrongs will be shielded because it has got a sky above it, large and valuable of the scriptures written by men and rules created by men.
We may call ourselves an evolved post-modernistic world but is there a woman who at a certain age or stage in life, did not sacrifice for a man who thought his ambitions and wishes more important or more noble or more sacred than her dreams?? Madhavi still lives - more conventional and easily identifiable in rural set ups and more masked in the metropolis.
Late Bhisma Sahni was a writer of the masses and not classes. His characters and stories, like Chekov, are based on triumphs and traumas of a common man; not very well known characters but people with great sensitivity, sensibility and zeal for life. His plays have a whole panaroma of varied character who even in their stereo-typical presence convey various shades of “man”. Wound with its own wit and humor, the plays are essentially tragic.The content, the theme, the treatment of the issues in his plays are socially relevant and progressive even if they have historical or mythological base. With great sensitivity and panache, the tragic tale of a simple dutiful girl is told who is merely a victim of an inherently flawed system, created by man himself.
Unlike classical or Greek tragedies where the grand tragic end of the character was determined by his height and status in royal hierarchy here the playwright relies on destiny as much as making the special talent of the protagonist as the cause of his/her own disaster while restraining from making the play slogan-based.
Madhavi is not a myth, she is a reality. Madhavi has not been vanquished by history, sadly like the legend of Gaea, she still lives either in the self-imposed glory of her sacrifice or the heart-rending solitude of her abandonment…

Madhavi is a result of an agitated exploration that continued to pose questions again and again about the presentation, representation and performance. A 3-act full-length play with more than 16 characters written by an eminent writer like Bhishma Sahni to be converted into a Solo performance? So many characters - all old stereotypic chauvinistic male except one - all to be performed by a young girl? That too a girl whose parentage, bringing up and urban modern education made her almost odds with the female character Madhavi, on whose life and destiny the play is written. The text was opened layer by layer and discarded completely line by line to explore the basic essence of the script. As that became clearer through brainstorming and discussion and fierce argumentation between the actor and the director, Bhishma Sahni’s script was picked up again and it was inventively interpolated so as to make it available for a solo performance.
From text one moved to images. What sort of visual landscape could we create so as to not just depict the life of Madhavi but also take the audience as a participant in the journey through her life? Almost magically cloth canvasses encompassed in vividly shaped light bamboo structures emerged that not only aesthetically excited us but also had promise in terms of flexibility of movement by way of Solo performance to depict many locales, time periods and psycho-physical spaces of various characters. We thought of collaborating with modern imaginative painters to render symbolical images on these canvasses. As usual, the lack of funding forced us to be resourceful and
we discovered something, what lead to us to an absolutely unexpected thrilling journey. We discovered during the first performance that the use of colours on the canvas by the actor during performance, almost invented a new language in performance. The selection of earth colours like turmeric, henna, sindoor, clay etc was natural. The bamboos, canvasses and wheat-flour, rice and color powders on stage at one moment brought the royal galore of the kings and kingdom, forlorn peace of Ashram, harrowing heights of long journeys in jungles and a sudden transition into neutral platform for narration.
Now the painting at the opening and during the performance became a play of colors for the performer that was not at all aimed to represent the psycho-emotional state of the character. What came as a wonderful welcome surprise was that what one was touching a dangerous area - the sub-conscious of the actor during the performance. For, it was realized that through the coloring of the canvasses the boundary between the actor and character was blurring and sharpening recurrently. Although since the process was more or less a continuum and to pinpoint was hard, mostly the result was actually the sub-conscious response to the sub-
text of the play MADHAVI. So many characters (real, fictitious and from the play) merged and forged their individuality, the actor maintained the alienation of an actor and journeyed with them, a facility imposed by the design of the play as a solo performance. And the idea was to take the play as Story-telling (katha-vachan style) by a modern urban girl talking of the life of a fellow member of the same species, many a times the narrator told the story while the body acted a character and many such interpolations were experimented on!
ABOUT THE ACTOR ...Rashi Bunny
Rashi Bunny ( राशी बनी) is an Indian Theatre and Cinema actor. She is known for her Solo plays Bhisham Sahni's Madhavi ,Manjula Padmanabhan's Hidden Fires and Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's The Little Prince with director Arvind Gaur.Rashi Bunny was selected as "one of the 50 Icons: Emerging personality of India" by Sahara India group with Rahul Gandhi. Acted in Duvidha film. Her solo Hidden Fires was invited for Queen's Award Project (UK) for Communal harmony. She also worked with Living Theatre Academy under Ebrahim Alkazi She is guest faculty at National Institute of Fashion Technology(NIFT) and has lectured widely in schools, colleges and institutes of repute in India and abroad.Rashi also organized theatre workshops for children in schools and worked with different NGOs on social issues.
Rashi pursued her training in Theatre Arts and Design at the University of Alabama and Rutgers University, New Jersey, USA.She is a recipient of Young Artist Scholarship & Junior Fellowship from department of Culture, HRD and Ruby Llyod Artistic & academic Excellence award and Best International Student Scholarship Award. She acted as lead in many plays, such as Beth Henley's Abundance and Jules Feiffer's Feiffer's People and worked with directors like Karma Ibsen, Ward Haarbauer and Anne Carmichael.
On her return to India,She worked with Arvind Gaur to explore the new language for solo performances.Rashi acted in many plays with Asmita theatre.
Acting.Bhisham Sahni 's MADHAVI, her first solo, directed by Arvind Gaur won accolades all over India and abroad.Manjula Padmanabhan's Hidden Fires was Rashi’s other solo directed by Arvind Gaur that has been selected by SKP as one of the best plays of year. It was also performed for Queen’s award project ( UK ) for Communal harmony. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's The Little Prince(French: Le Petit Prince),solo by Rashi Bunny directed by Arvind Gaur .It is only solo performance of The Little Prince in the world .It's being done in Hindi for the first time ,adapted by Capt.Rigved and for the first time a single actor is using multimedia puppetry to tell this world classic fable.Walking Through the rainbow, her latest solo directed by Arvind Gaur premiered in Chennai and deals with domestic abuse and other NRI issues.
She also acted in Mahesh Dattani's Tara & Final Solution, Vijay mishra's Tatt Niranjana, Swadesh Deepak's Court Martial and Sabse Udas Kavita, Munshi Premchand's Moteram ka Satyagrah, Rajesh Kumar's Me Gandhi Bolto .She also acted in many street plays.
These plays have been performed for various Theatre festivals, Institutions and NGO's in India and abroad including NSD, SKP, Nehru Centre, India Habitat Centre, Darpana Academy (Ahmedabad), IIT Kharagpur,Old World Mahindra festival(India Habitat Centre),British Council, Vivechana National festival, Gajanan Madhav Muktibodh Natya Samaroh, World Social Forum, Satta Festival, Jawaharlal Nehru University, IILM, PCVC, Stella Maris College (Chennai), University of Delhi, Jawahar Kala Kendra, ActionAid, Heinrich Böll Foundation, Armmono-II (ITI Unesco) and Nizhnevartovsk Theatre Festival.
Rashi has conducted theatre workshops for Engineering and management students, children, Youth and adults from all kinds of background and judged many drama competitions in Bengal, Delhi and Rajasthan. For,India Habitat Centre she has conducted Theatre workshops and was the coordinator for the Platform theatre. She is guest faculty at NIFT and has lectured widely in schools, colleges and institutes of repute in India and abroad.As Founding Director of Banjara Theatre Group at IIT Kharagpur, she also has designed and directed Many plays .
Critics' remarks
* It was a delightful solo performance by Rashi Bunny, as she brought to fore a range of human emotions in Bhisham Sahni's MADHAVI... it is an experiment both in its presentation by the director Arvind Gaur and its enactment by the actor Rashi.The Set and its use to my mind is indeed creative bordering on the genius. - The Hindu
* The play was among the very rare meaningful theatre we get to watch in our city. Thought provoking, overwhelming, it left so many fighting their tears. Each person present would have identified with the double standards of our society, each person sitting there would have felt guilty of having reduced the existence of a woman to a mere object, a commodity. Each woman would have relived some part of her life.- Hindustan Times
* All women will be able to see a part of themselves in it. The relevance of the issue makes the time setting immaterial.Even though the play is based on mythology, Madhavi. It was a delightful solo performance by Rashi Bunny, as is contemporary in its presentation and style...- India Today
* Its 'an actor's play'... The Kathavachan style has been adopted and the actor Rashi relates to the audience in day to day baat cheet…an intense and intimate theatre experience. -The Pioneer
* The solo performance is an experiment. Its like taking people through a journey.Even the set design is very experimental. There are blank canvasses on the stage and different colours placed in earthen pots,that symbolize the different colours of life.- First City
* The complex story of Madhavi, her trauma, tragedy and conflicts were portrayed with great sensitivity by Rashi Bunny.The simplicity of set design, use of bamboo structures, canvasses & helped audiences to extend their imagination to grasp the diversity and multi dimensional directorial interpretation of the play.- Navbharat Times

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