All adaptations are challenging, but how does one adapt to the stage a 750-page novel that travels leisurely in nature, spans across a 100 years, has no apparent centre and no principal characters?
The answer to such a creative conundrum comes in Rangayana’s nine-hour-long theatrical adaptation of Malegalalli Madhumagalu (A Bride from the Wilds), a classic work by Kannada literary icon Kuvempu. The state-owned repertory company, based in Mysore, has worked for over six months to bring it to the stage with 150 characters, 58 scenes, 48 songs and 67 actors on four adjoining stage-sets. The play will begin at nine in the night and run till six in the morning, with four 20-minute intervals. The last time such an effort was mounted—at least in non-traditional theatre—was for Peter Brook’s Mahabharata in 1985, which too was a nine-hour-long venture.
Unlike Brook’s show, however, this one won’t tour the world or across India, as its director, C. Basavalingaiah, a former National School of Drama graduate, has a clearly defined political position. “My play is not an export-quality good. I’m not interested in taking it to a pan-Indian or pan-world audience. If people are interested, they have to come to Mysore to watch it in its natural setting. When all that is local is being lost, this play to me is about recovering my culture, my language and its nuances,” he told Outlook.
Even the four stage-sets that subvert the conventional proscenium theatre will make it difficult for the play to travel. It is set in the natural precincts of the Rangayana campus, portions of which have a forest-like ambience. The sets make use of the tall trees, thick bushes and the undulations, and an artificial pond. As the action moves, so does the audience from one stage to another.
The script now centres around a lost ring: its journey from one place to another, from one hand to another. People from the Arjuna Jogi community, predominantly found in the Malnad region and traditionally known for kidnapping married women, act as the principal narrators in the play. Once Narayanaswamy had the basic structure of the play in place, he culled out dialogues from the novel with the help of four collaborators and wove them into the final script. In all, he says, it took him a month to get the script ready. He spent another fortnight writing the 48 songs for which Hamsalekha has composed music.
Malegalalli Madhumagalu will premiere on April 23. Even if the effort were to fail, the troupe feels it would still be a ‘big victory’, because they would have fulfilled an important cultural duty.