Point of View - Avinash D'Souza reviews Trishla Patel's 'Kumbh Katha'

Katha-asthu

Tri-athletes are special people. They have to be. I can’t think of too many people willing to excel in three disciplines simultaneously. Forgive my French, but it’s just daft.

But this isn’t madness, this is Sparta! Err…theatre. It makes perfect sense that theatre actor Trishla Patel makes her debut as writer and director with Kumbh Katha.

Mythologically speaking, the devas joined the asuras to create the elixir of life, or amrit by churning the oceans.

Apparently the devas cheated the asuras out of their share of the amrit which granted eternal life. Four drops of the amrit fell to earth at Haridwar, Nasik, Ujjain and Prayag, and that is where the Kumbh melas are held. This apparently inspired Trishla to craft a fantasy play exploring the possibility of the existence of a fifth drop of amrit, the outcome of which was Kumbh Katha.

The story which starts off as rather commonplace journey of two boys whose twain was screwed. Faith interchanged and so forth.

Somewhere along the way, we have the plot evolve into a fantastical journey involving the saving of a woman named Ganga on whom the fifth drop of amrit has fallen. Ganga sadly enough hasn’t been granted eternal life by the amrit drop and is waning away thanks to a force majeure. Yeah, it’s one of those. The challenge the two protagonists face is to save her. Think the Mummy series without Brendan Frasier’s teeth, hypertension and…well, embalming.

Sanjay Dadich and Trushant Ingle play the lead protagonists who are brothers displaced by faith and location.

They do a very good job of convincing the audience of the authenticity of their relationship which helps us take the leap into fantasy with a degree of comfort. When I think characters, Ganga is one I think was fleshed out as an afterthought. It’s a bit like reverse engineering a balance sheet where you work backwards from the profit. You compute the sub-levels but it just seems patched together. Since there are 20 odd actors on stage at various points of time, it’s impossible to actually define each performance. What can be said though is that Trishla has managed to contextualize each entry and exit on stage which is….remarkable.

It really doesn’t show that Trishla is a debutante writer who completed the draft in less than a month. Actually…it does but only a bit. While Kumbh Katha has a fairly easy-to-follow non-linear format, there is a bit of spottiness in the script in certain areas that could be tightened up on. The reason I’m not mentioning them is because they’re more nuance than material. It’s easy enough to follow and understand the sequence of events which is a pretty big statement to make considering you have 20-odd actors coming onstage through the play. It’s honestly not that difficult to follow and understand the sequence of events i.e. barely any subtext outside the save-the-environment chant. And thank God for that! Pun unintended.

While this play may be thought of as a big-budget monstrosity, it clearly isn’t. Not from the set design perspective in any case. Since the setting of the play is in the ghats of the holy places, Trishla has chosen to go with metaphor and minimalism options to maintain a semblance of sanity onstage. For this play, while one does see the possibility of adding on more texture, the existing blocking and layout seems to work for now. The imagery and visual texture is focused on the actors and the script which is adequate considering you have live music onstage. Yup, onstage. That IS cool.

This isn’t a fantastic looking play. This isn’t even the tightest scripted play I’ve seen of late. But Kumbh Katha goes where very few performance pieces think of going. Like as we do in economics, we look for validation of theory in a mortal plane. The reach to mythology over the years by both Bollywood and theatre has been a bit of a hit-and-miss affair. Kumbh Katha’s clear references to mythology are a difficult commercial call to make but it’s been pulled off cleanly. As with any play, it has gapping issues but that doesn’t detract from the overall energy of the piece. It’s a play one should watch, not for the slickness of production but for the spectacle that is theatre. This one breathes…at least in the kalyug.