Dark Horse is based on a single meeting between a woman journalist and Arun Kolatkar, one of the finest contemporary poets of India, at a restaurant in Kolatkar's favourite Kala Ghoda area in old Mumbai. Years after that meeting, when the journalist learns of Kolatkar's death, she recalls how she first heard of the man in her girlhood, read his poems in her college days, and how deeply they affected her perspective. She traces the events that led to her encounter with the reclusive man, and relives her interview with him. As they talk, the poems come alive and are performed against a soundscape of music. Their talk begins with wariness and some suspicion, but ends on a moment of intimacy.
Dark Horse uses 10 poems by Kolatkar. Some are abridged or excerpted. They are not 'recited', but assimilated into the performance as inter-textual material. Each poem is treated differently; according the mood that may be flippant, grave or whimsical. Each poem carries the action and the emotion forward. All are banked with music. Some are juxtaposed with lines from older poets of the Bhakti Movement, like Tukaram and Mirabai. The play has been performed in thirty different venues around India, winning two Mahindra Excellence in Theatre Awards in 2006 - Best Sound Design and a special commendation for Best Play.
“The dance, music and short skits work well together, bringing out the eccentricity and irreverence of Arun Kolatkar.”
The Hindu, June 2016
NOT JUST BUT BEST
The stage at the Alliance Francaise of Madras, Chennai. The audience waits for the play “When Things Fall Apart” to begin. On the dark stage characters first appear as silhouettes. The sound of the drum gathers volume as lights brighten to showcase the first scene of a play based on a story from the Mahabharata.
JustUs, the Chennai based multi-genre group blends literature, music and theatre to create a play in English, which delves into the psychological depths of characters from an Indian epic. The repertory, which has staged its work in several cities in India and abroad, celebrated crossing 10 years with a two day theatre festival. This play was staged on day one.
It is a challenge for the director to ensure that every actor in an ensemble play of 4 characters (sic, there were 3) etches his own character excellently well, without outshining co-actors. Gowri Ramnarayan, the director who heads the repertory, has succeeded (in this task).
The actor lives through the role of the infuriated Ashwatthama when he trounces his father to his mother saying, “My father did not teach me what he taught Arjuna”; when he wrangles with his father; and finally when he breaks down before his mother, realizing that his father had indeed loved him. and had died believing in the fake news of his son’s death.
We forget that a woman (Akhila) is playing this role, so convincing was the body language, expression of feelings, and commanding masculine voice. Stunning.
“Are you human at all? Are you a brahmana, a teacher, you who did not condemn your disciples when they disrobed Draupadi in open court?” Sunandha Raghunathan poured such fire into her portrayal as Kripi that her glances and manner were enough to convince the audience that she was right. Not only Drona, but we the audience, get spooked when the enraged Kripi starts disrobing herself with “Isn’t this how you wanted to see Draupadi?” The director’s deep maturity was evident in visualizing this scene without the least loss of dignity.
A play is enlivened by lighting and music. Recognizing that lighting and music bring life to theatre, this group has given them their due. Night or day or dawn time, and locations of cottage or forest, are established through lighting changes against the dark backdrop of black cloth. Young Charles of Chennai Art Theatre was responsible for the lighting design, and ensured that actors were lit up only at need, and to the required extent. His craft skill as also his understanding of the play’s scenes are praiseworthy.
The second play, set in contemporary times, was about Arun Kolatkar, who began as a painter and became a poet. He has many works in Marathi and English. A icon for today’s youngsters. This awards-winning poet enjoys solitude. A Tamil journalist meets him at his haunt, a restaurant in Bombay’s Kala Ghoda area.
The newspaper obituary read aloud at the start makes the audience aware that this is a story about a poet who lived and died in our times. Sharp dialogues, clear enunciation, simple but effective story telling methods, were topnotch.
No background instrumental music, (Savita Narasimhan) sings in a sweet voice and perfect sruti according to the needs of the scenes. One of the scenes had merely straight musical notes ( sa..ma… pa). The same singer brilliantly renders abhang, Carnatic, Hindustani and western music. Without her songs the play would have become bare as dialogues.
Though this company produces English plays, it was gratifying to see that it felicitated Tamil playwrights Na Muthuswamy and Indira Parthasarathy, gifting them cartoon drawings as mementos. Since Indira Parthaarathy could not come to the venue, a video recording of him being felicitated in his home was screened before the show.
Just fest turned out to be not “just” a festival, but the “best” festival.
Ramanan, Kalki Magazine, 9 July 2017
THE UNUSUAL WORLD OF A POET
Every poet lives in a world of his own. You have to understand that world before you can feel anything for the poet or for his poetry. Dark Horse is a play which makes that attempt.
“Just Fest 2017” was a celebration of 10 years of JustUs Repertory, last week, at the Alliance Francaise of Madras. At the festival playwrights Na Muthuswamy and Indira Parthasarathy were felicitated with cartoon drawings.
Dark Horse, staged at the festival, was written by Gowri Ramnarayan as a tribute to the Marathi poet Arun Kolatkar. The play presents the perspective of a Tamil journalist who is lost in memories of the poet when she gets the news of his death. Arun Kolatkar’s poems find their place in the play as songs, and through dance movements. Yohan Chacko as Kolatkar and Akhila Ramnarayan as the journalist excelled in depicting the emotions of those who inhabit the world of poesy. Charles’ lighting transformed the play into a lyrical experience. The play shed new light on the unusual world of Arun Kolatkar’s verses.
N Gowri, The Hindu (Tamil) 2 July 2017