Sunday, March 24, 2013

රංග බූන්දි | Towards another era of Dhawala Bheeshana: Testing the Dramaturgy of (Consumerist) Spectator - [ None]

“The art of this epoch will be entirely under the influence of revolution. This art needs a new self-consciousness”. – Leon Trotsky in Literature and Revolution

Dhawala Bheeshana is back on stage; and so could be a renewed phase of another bheeshanaya (organized torture and violence) in Sri Lanka? A timely re-production of a play which first saw its dramatic advent in late 1980s and throughout, history has kept repeating only with more tragedies for us. Torture and violence have become so generalized norms of our polity, and there is no theatrical personality, in our era, other than Dharmasiri Bandaranayake, whose entire theatrical enterprise has been dedicated to deeply excavating and enlightening our spectator on this theme, politically and philosophically. His plays, Eka Adhipathi (The Dictator), Makarakshaya (The Dragon), Dhawala Beeshana (Men without Shadows), Yakshawagamanaya (Arrival of the Devil) and Trojan Kanthavo (Trojan Women) have dealt, inter alia, exclusively, on the theme of political violence, both state sponsored or generated by revolutionary resistance.

The script of Dhawala Beeshana is translated by Ciril C. Perera from the play, Men without Shadows, by foremost French Marxist and existentialist philosopher of the last century, Jean-Paul Sartre, whose philosophy has inspired generations of young revolutionaries and activists world over. Dharmasiri first staged this play at a time when the state sponsored counter terrorism had been unleashed on two violent, anti-government youth movements in the South and the North of Sri Lanka. The entire public of this country were experiencing the fear of death and torture, and their lives were engulfed with the uncertainty of seeing the next day’s light. Therefore, the frightening political context in which the play originated evenly suited its theme; death and life as conditioned by political violence.

Similarly, Satre’s original play was inspired by Vichy Regime’s, headed by Marshall Philippe Pétain, merciless suppression of young revolutionaries in France.
The entire act of the play is set inside a torture camp of French military and the spectator is confronted by five revolutionaries being tortured and inquired about the whereabouts of their leader. The play’s action entirely depends upon the secret discussion among the six revolutionaries and the torturing acts by the military. The play is a depiction of the traumatized psychology of torturers and the tortured, their self-reflection on being victimized to a condition which they themselves have contributed to create. The performance of the play so deconstructs the entire gamut of violent politics and the psyche of the victims and perpetrators of violence and makes no room for justifying the means of violence, despite the significance of the goal to be achieved by means of it. If the spectator is finally driven home of the primary philosophical tenet of the play, he/she should be deeply overwhelmed by a universal humanism, transcending every class, creed, or any such division among humans.

Consumerist spectator

Further, the dramaturgy of the spectator which the dramatist and the performers create is worth a bit of investigation here, since it warrants us to reflect on today’s spectator whose choice of art consumption could be different from the previous generations. Since Dhawala Beeshana weaves a philosophical text of realist political behaviour by power holders and those who challenge the repressive power formations, the spectator cannot just occupy its seat in the theatre and expect mere entertainment out of the torturing acts sensibly performed by a talented cast. The performers and the director do not provide a subjective account of the traumatic incidence, but throws up a new window open to inter-textual in roads in to the play. That is to say, there is no one single truth about politics and one dimensional characterization in this play; all characters are made of flesh and blood, emotions and desire for life. Let’s take for example, the character of Landrieu, military Commander, played with less effort, but deep indulgence by veteren W.Jayasiri. Landrieu is the commander of this torture camp, but he cannot stand seeing blood and torture; so he always comes to his real conscience that he is enslaved by a regime of a dictator to torture people. He is neither happy nor brave, fear of death and torture has totally overcome him even though people are tortured under his command. The self-reflectivity of his own action makes him hate the dictator and instantly he may fear that he will be tipped to be a betrayer. Other characters; Lucie, Jean, Henry, Sorbier, and Canoris, they all fight their own conscience to live their lives and escape death. When the prisoners are offered that they will be released on revelation of truth, they again begin to battle hard with their real desires and the expectations they had on behalf of others, the oppressed. The play never hints that violence can be justified, but it lives on the discourse of violence, both structural and manifest in our own society.

The play text really tests the spectator’s viewpoints, they may come to view the play from their point of views, but instantly they are shown that torture on human body does not know about any class consciousness, or revolutionary aim, but only the acute pain and suffering. This is why the torturers are trying their hard to make the prisoners scream by increasing the intensity of torture. There is something universal about human suffering and their existence here. Every human being’s existence is bounded by desire for life and fear for death. You cannot be victorious or save humanity from exploitation or injustice by bringing death on a section of people. But, if we can offer every human being the guarantee of its life, free of torture and exploitation, only then that dictators in us can be defeated; have anyone of us been unhappy when torture was on the other?; we have feared that torture will come to us only, and not that it will give the same fear and pain to the others as well.

Dharmasiri has mostly trusted on young talent in his reproduction, only exception is veteran W.Jayasiri as Landriue in whom we see a human being in military attire, with full of passion and resistance subdued by professional obligation to kill. Among the other cast, Oshadee Gunasekara shows every sign of getting into big roles made of flesh and blood. Jehan Srikantha (Henry), Ishara Pramuditha (Francois), Nigel Raymond (Jean), Jagath Chandralal (Canoris) and Warnathunag Senanayaka (Clochet) have justified why they are in a play by Dharmasiri. All in all, casting has been carefully done and other artistic and technical aspects have been rightly observed by the director. Kemadasa’s music deeply converses with the theme of the play, so that the existentialist in maestro himself is visible to us. In fact, the music aired from torture chamber, and the prisoners who overhear music from their cell and respond to it, show how agonizing is the meaning of life under the shadows of death. Music has vividly assisted the director to heighten the thematic focus on a society of rulers without souls and the oppressed without correct guidance for social transformation.

Dhawala Beeshana achieves its success of performance text with coherent understanding of the philosophy of the play; that is to say that, deeply driven great humanism has no alternative in power politics. The entire crew of the play seems to have grasped this message, and they have successfully challenged and tested an audience of current day consumer society. The biggest success of the dramaturgy of this play is to make the spectators to bring out their own texts of the play; or give them space to reflect on the corollary of the politics, implicit or explicit endorsement of violence, which authorizes dictators, directly and indirectly.

In today’s measurements of the greatness of art, a true artist could be one who succeeds that challenge of allowing multiple truths to emerge from his work of art, while opposing every aspect of violence permeated through the language of politics or aesthetics. Dharmasiri has succeeded in that endeavor and he has passed that message to a new generation. We wish that Dhawala Beeshana will become the trigger for initiating that bloodless revolution of ending beeshana in our society. And as Trotsky has said, the art of our epoch influenced by revolution needs a new self-consciousness; and both the performers and spectators need to cultivate that self-consciousness in them, if we are to aspire for a real transformation of exploitative and violent social system.

-By Rev.Galkande Dhammananda and Athulasiri Kumara Samarakoon

(The writers are two research students at JNU – New Delhi. They watched the play in Abhimanch Theatre at National School of Drama when it was staged for Bharat Ranga Mahotsav on 11th January 2013)

Thursday, March 14, 2013

පොත් බූන්දි | "Sagara Jalaya Madi Handuwa Oba Sanda" by Simon Nawagattegama | Second look at a legend - [Prof. Ediriweera Sarachchandra | එදිරිවීර සරච්චන්ද්‍ර ]

The name Simon Nawagattegama has been almost a legend in Sinhalese literary and artistic circles for some time. Everybody has heard of him. He was famous, but for what no one exactly knew. He came from very humble origins, which as important qualification for being a writer in Ceylon as it is being the president of the United States.

At one time it was being whispered about that he was married but no one has met his wife. Suddenly he climbed the stage and showed a remarkable virtuosity as an actor. Then he wrote and produces his own play showing such mastery of stage craft that it looked as if he had done nothing but produce plays all his life. Actually no one thought that he had ever been to see a Sinhalese play, and wondered how he gained the experience.

I met Nawagattegama ten year ago when he entered university as an undergratuate. In a few months he brought out a voulume of short stories and everybody began to talk about this prodigy from Vanniya. He walked about the campus with a volume of Dostovesky in his hand discussing philosophy and poetry. Then he suddenly disappeared, and nothing was heard of him for a long time. He showed some promise in his short stories but after some time I gave up hope about him. I was wondering whether Nawagattegama legend was not a myth, after all, and It was his cultivated bohemianism that started it.

After a silence of nearly ten years, he has now come out with a book of stories, some short, some long, and I now find that I must revise my opinion about him and that I have to reaffirm my earlier faith in him. The stories have a freshness about them which I do not remember having encountered in Sinhala fiction since Gunadasa Amarasekara first made an appearance.

Nawagattegama brings us life in the raw, with all its elemental passions and its struggle with man and nature. Human suffering seems to be their recurrent theme. But in the midst of suffering and death, there is life offering its consolidations, however grim and ironical they may be. This is the theme of "Kassippukarayo" (The Kassippu- makers) perhaps the most poignant in the collection.

I think I like "Sithuwilli...Sithuwilli...Sithuwilli" (Reflections, Reflections and Reflections) best but this is only a personal prediction, because all the stories in this collection have an individuality of their own and can be enjoyed alike. It is the most cleverly constructed perhaps, with its subtle undercurrent suggestion that holds up suspense till the end. Here again the theme seems to be, to my mind, the contrast between suffering, old age, and death (Jathi-Jara-Marana) on one hand and youth and life on the other.

The son sits by the bedside of the sick and dying farther, prepared for the all night watch, but duties seem irksome to him, and his patience falters. Outside the depressing atmosphere pf this bedroom, however, air is fresh and life pulsate in the youthful form of Anula the maid. His duties finally become tolerable and even pleasant merely by the presence of this girl.

Her restraint is a reminder to him of the need to discipline one's emotions and to perform one's duties however dull they be. And he has no other he has no other choice but to tread this path. However, her silent attractiveness lights up this path with some joy and promise, and he reconciles himself to his choice.

The first story, which is practically a novelette, did not interest me very much, nor did the last "Lamaya saha Mala" (The child and the flower) which is in the same vein. In them he exploits the theme of the relationship between man and nature, in a manner reminiscent of Garshin, but I somehow felt that the symbolism in the first story did not click. In the last story the symbolism is intelligible, but is it not merely a guise to cloth a narration that would otherwise become a sentimental and trivial?

"Ohu Miya Giya Pasu" (After he died) is a powerful story of a clash between the elemental nature in a remote village setting of a Vanni. It moves from one dramatic climax to another holding the reader in its grip by the sheer force of narration and dialogue. But one wonders in the end what the author wishes to convey. If he wishes to bring home to the reader the effect of the irrational quarrel of the elders upon the innocent and beautiful relationship of the two younger children as the reader is lead to expect, this aspect is over shadowed by many other considerations that spring up in the course of the story, and the reader is left somewhat disappointed.

Nawagattegama'slanguage is redolent of the atmosphere of Vanni village, enriched as it is by the native speech and idiom of the people of those parts and also by his own suggestive imagery.

I must conclude by saying that Nawagattegama is heartily welcomed after his long absence and that we expect him to give us more and more writings in the future.

[Photo courtesy of Harsha Aravinda's FB Page]

Prof. Ediriweera Sarachchandra | එදිරිවීර සරච්චන්ද්‍ර