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Jesus Christ Superstar

In the early 1970s,German priest George Proksch was working in Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra when he decided to tell the story of Creation in a unique way...

Written by Dipanita Nath |
May 2, 2009 12:31:35 am

In the early 1970s,German priest George Proksch was working in Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra when he decided to tell the story of Creation in a unique way — through a Hindi play called Meshpal Bhagwan (The Shepherd God). The play made an impact around India. Now,30 years later,Meshpal Bhagwan is set for a grand revival as a 100-minute-long dance drama comprising 500 actors and directed by a Delhi-based priest,Father John Paul. It will be held at St. Columba’s School on May 9 and 10 to mark the 50th anniversary celebrations of the Delhi Catholic Archdiocese. “We’ve called it Antardwand,signifying the inner conflict between good and evil. Father Proksch would be happy about the play’s modern makeover to appeal to the millennium generation,” says Father Paul,adding that he is trying to stay within the budget of Rs 10 lakh.

The story,unfolding through dances on stage and images playing on a giant background screen,begins with chaos and continues with the Creator chipping at two boulders to create the first humans. The subsequent Loss of Innocence and Adam and Eve’s banishment from the Garden of Eden is accompanied by scenes of “modern ailments on the screen: from drugs to lechery to terrorism that afflicts Earth,the new home of Adam and Eve,” he adds. The action continues through the coming of Christ,his death,Resurrection and Ascension and ends with his message of love and brotherhood.

The actors were selected after auditions at 18 schools,like St Francis De Sales School in Janakpuri,Montford School in Ashok Vihar and Carmel Convent in Faridabad. Most of the main actors are from colleges with experience in acting. Pankaj Varghese,the 22-year-old BBA final year student from YMCA,says he was in the midst of preparing for his exams when he received a call offering him the role of Christ. “I was floored. Ever since,I have come closer to the Lord and realise that at 33,he was a youthful man with a sense of humour,” says Varghese.

A trained Bharatnatyam dancer,Father Paul roped in a choreographer duo from Kerala to lend a contemporary edge to the movements. “We’ve played around with freestyle contemporary moves,Indian folk and classical dances to create individual pieces,” says Harsha Prakash,the choreographer. The Devil arrives amid thunder and lighting,performing a tandava-style dance,while Mary Magdalene,played by Aparna Babu,a second-year student from Jesus and Mary College,has a series of mujra rhythms to complement her role of a court dancer. “After the crucifixion,there is a rudaali-type dance of mourning by 17 female dancers,” says Father Paul. Jesus,too,dances with joy when he revives a dead Lazarus,to the surprise and gratitude of his family. Father Proksch’s music,too,has undergone a peppy makeover.

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For the young actors,playing divinity came with its own challenges. Varghese went for confession before he attempted the role and Babu finds herself “less judgemental after playing a controversial character like Mary Magdalene”. Both have balanced their exam preparations with hectic rehearsals. Father Paul insists that despite being 100 minutes,the play isn’t too long. “If anything,it’s too little to relate the Bible,a story so full of drama. I’ve had to show crucifixion and resurrection through symbols on the screen,” he says. The play is fast paced and high on energy,shifting from sorrow to joy to villainy through songs and dances. Though the main characters are Christian,the cast has students of all faith. Z. Tariq,a student of Class X,St Michael School,says,“I am participating for the love of dance.” As Father Proksch would say,“That’s the spirit.”

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