Girish Karnad Poses Love Choice Between Poetry & Power
by Susan Dunn
“Hayavadan,” Girish Karnad’s popular 1971 play, fulfills our romantic fantasies. A woman aspires to the perfect man, pursuing her dream of being complete. And a man with a horse’s head yearns to be fully human. Side by side, these two characters want to alter nature to reach their idea of perfection.
Both characters desperately pray to Kali, four-armed Goddess of Time and Death (cheeky Deepal Pandya). Kali, presented regally, stifles a yawn, and ignores the needs of her worshipers. We grasp that even perfection gets boring after a while; but our imperfections make us special!
Padmini (alluring Shweta Amre / Roshni Datta) desires both her poetic husband and her hunky crush. Two great friends, Devdutt (aristocratic Dhananjay Motwani) and Kapil (earthy Rohit Dube) long for Padmini’s love.
The two men are opposites: Devdutt is a brainy poet, handsome, and high born. Kapil is a physically strong, low-born man. Although beautiful Padmini falls in love with and marries Devdutt, she continues to flirt with his friend Kapil.
Storyteller Bhagwat (outspoken Ajitesh Gupta) introduces the title character, Hayavadan (vocal acrobat Ruchir Sutaria), the horse-face or horse-man. With a man’s body and horse’s head, Hayavadan inhabits two separate worlds: the human and the equine. Since he cannot fully belong to either world, he yearns to shed his horse face and become a complete man.
Karnad’s magical and bizarre tale draws us into a complex world of gods, animals, and puppets. Director Harish Agastya’s Naatak production triumphs by combining magic with meaning and bringing charm to human conflicts.
Set designers Snigrdha Jain and Asheesh Divetia’s huge, spectacular fairytale forest of brilliant colors and curves draws us in. Flowers shimmer as backlighting revolves in primary colors, changing the mood of each scene. Colorful changes of light keep our senses engaged and our minds on the fascinating characters and their fabulous struggles.
In a scene that wavers between horror and hilarity, Padmini transposes the heads of Devdutt and Kapila with their opposite bodies. What should have given her the perfect man fails to deliver her utopian dream of marital completeness. With both men still vying for her love, only one solution remains: the men must fight to the death:
There is only one solution to this. We must both die.
No grounds for friendship now.
We must fight like lions and kill like cobras.
Comedy, music, and dance come to save the far-fetched plot, casting an ironic net over the love triangle. The final scene amuses, surprises, and uplifts us. The horse-man Hayavadan returns from his visit to Kali’s shrine where she has granted his wish, but with a big surprise.
Naatak’s production of “Hayavadan” offers surprises with every element—from story to performance to scenic and technical design. Naaatak has wrapped a red ribbon around a perfect and complete package!
“Hayavadan” by Girish Karnad, directed by Harish Agastya, music by Anitha Dixit, dance by Soumya Agastya, by Naatak Indian Theater, in Hindi with English supertitles, at Cubberley Theater, Palo Alto. Info: Naatak.com – to Sunday, June 25, 2022.
Cast: Ajitesh Gupta, Bhavik Doshi, Ruchir Sutaria, Dhananjay Motwani, Rohit Dube, Shweta Amre, Roshni Datta, Deepal Pandya, Roshni Shah, Richa Parcek, and Sanjhbati Ray.
Banner photo: Kapil & Devdutt, a fight to the death. Photos by Kyle Adler