“Niddravatvam”: Theatre Review

Having watched Adishakti Laboratory for Theatre Art Research (what a mouthful, I’ll call it ALTAR for short!)’s earlier production, “The Tenth Head” at Ranga Shankara, and reviewed it here, I was prepared for an interesting evening when I went to watch “Nidrdravathvam”. The play is about two brothers of the protagonist and the antagonist of the Ramayana: Lakshmana and Kumbhakarna.

They are connected in having received boons that, in the words of the excellent brochure provided by ALTAR, “dramatically alter their cycles of sleep and wakefulness.” Kumbharkarna’s tongue is tied by Saraswati, and instead of asking for “Nirdevatvam” (destruction of the Devas) he asks for “Nidravatvam” (sleep). Lakshmana is given the boon of being able to give his sleep completely for the 14 years of his “vanavasa” and bequeathing it to his wife, Urmila. Both boons seem to be double-edged swords.

From the very beginning of the play, I learnt not to make assumptions., the first of which was that two people would be playing the two roles. It was just one person, Nimmy Raphel, who essayed both roles to perfection. In a sense, though, I was right…because in the production, she plays two more roles…that of playwright and director, too!

It’s not often that one sees a play which engages an audience of all ages. My neighbour was a young girl of 8 years; from the very beginning, the mime and the lithe acrobatics caught the attention of several children like her. For the older members of the audience, the philosopy and the conondrums facing the characters were of interest. Even the stage convention of moving to one side to depict one character, and to the other to depict another, was done with a lot of fluid, acrobatic movement. I must credit Vinay Kumar with some excellent lighting.

At every turn during the 60-minute play, the mood was enhanced, the tensions underscored, by the (to use a pun) dramatic lighting. The stage props were very minimal, consisting of just a cube that Nimmy sat upon occasionally. It was the lighting that often played the part that stage props do.

The sound and music were managed by Apoorva Mathur,and the text support and music was provided by Arvind Rane. Veenapani Chawla’s creative guidance was evident in being almost invisible. The vision that came across clearly was that of the playwright, Nimmy Raphel.

Nimmy Raphel, indeed, dominated the stage, in her roles as the two people from the Ramayana, who play out their involvement with their sleep and wakefulness. Between serious words, and touches of delightful whimsy (Kumbhakarna is fondly shortened to Kumbi, and he has a secretary called Mrs Kutty who is a female fly!) she delineated, in a masterly way, first one and then the other, with Lakshmana narrating the story of Kumbhakarna.

Though the play ends with Lakshmana unable to find the answers he seeks, to the enigma of his boon, Nimmy brought the play to a very well-marked conclusion. Apart from the excellence of her acting and dialogue delivery, one must applaud the physical virtuosity of the actor’s movements, which verged on many elements of Kerala dance forms.

Nimmy’s costume, too, was simple: a cloth around the waist, pleated in front, possibly representing the dhoti, and a top. A simple scarf was turned, once in a while, into a turban. Nimmy wore none of the jewellery with which our mythological characters are often adorned, and the superb fitness of her body and the grace and mastery of her movements were adornments enough for the roles she evoked.

It is a great feeling to know that one is watching an excellent piece of theatre, and the 60 minutes just zipped by!

Rashmi, a member of the audience, felt that it was a bit difficult to follow the story unless one had read the brochure previously. Mayank felt that after about 20 minutes, the play lost its appeal to him. Sushil, however, said that the movements of the actor, and the way she brought out the two characters, appealed to him a lot, and that he enjoyed the play. ALTAR is one group that I, for one, will watch out keenly for, in the future. Do come to Ranga Shankara more often than you’ve been doing so far!

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