Mumbai Mirror, Friday, October 7, 2007
Is there an unwritten rule that theatre which uses hi-tech aids is no theatre at all? Bikhre Bimb doesn’t agree
A new Girish Karnad play is an event on the theatrescape. Add to that a very rare performance by Arundhati Nag, eminent theatre personality and founder of the Rangashankara Theatre in Bangalore and layers of issues that prick into the politics of language, identity and very complex emotions, and you should have enough reason to expect the hype that surrounded Bikhre Bimb when it first opened. But curiously most of the discussion it generated centred on Karnad’s use of visual projection as an integral part of the play. The set, which resembles the interiors of a television studio plays host to Nag as Manjula, a successful writer being interrogated sharply by her own image on a projection screen until she unravels to a point where it is hard to tell the difference between her real and cultivated images. The recent trend of using multimedia on stage has met with skepticism and criticism from all quarters. Individually the attempts might have fallen flat but is there a larger unwritten rule that theatre that uses technological audio-video techniques is no theatre at all? This mingling of arts is certainly being scoffed at by puritanical elements who believe theatre is essentially live, but must that deter one from lauding a truly ingenious attempt at fusion?
Perhaps in this case the criticism was heightened by the fact that this was not expected of Karnad who has so far usually plumbed into history to extract his material. He has after all been a flag bearer for experimental theatre which in India is often interchangeable with a sort of ‘poor theatre’ that emphasizes the elimination of frills and enforced aesthetics; atleast partly due to the general lack of funding for such endeavors. His endorsement of such a costly affair as this must certainly have roused feelings of betrayal even if secretly peppered with a little envy at his freedom of choice. But what Karnad creates with the help of technology is in fact another character. His use of the electronic image is indispensable to an examination of the selves we fashion in our times. The use is neither distracting nor an excuse for a flimsy script. Nag, who faced the enormous challenge of taking all her cues on stage from a recorded image of herself, has begun to see this image as a co-actor and keeps referring to it in the third person. She is all for technology that can be used to enhance the theatrical experience but says she would draw the line to exclude its use merely to show off effects. This elusive line between mediums and where it should be drawn at can spawn endless debates. K.M. Chaitanya, co-director of the play with Karnad, pointed out earlier that they have used only a single long take without any post production so the filmmaker is merely a mechanic at work. Perhaps this insinuates that the use of a more ‘cinematic’ film clip is less acceptable.
Wherever the line on what is theatre is drawn, there should be nothing to hinder a free intercourse between media facilitated by scientific developments, even if not all its progenies are pretty, clever or even wanted.