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Sunday, February 28, 2021

Gandhari’s Lament

Sanjukta Wagh, who won this year’s META for best female actor, on portraying Gandhari and stepping out of her comfort zone.

Written by Suanshu Khurana |
Updated: April 20, 2015 12:00:49 am
talk, express talk, Sanjukta Wagh, META, Kurukshetra, Mahagharata, Gandhari, Duryodhana Sanjukta Wagh in a scene from Rage And Beyond.

As she enters the battleground of Kurukshetra, post the famous war of the Mahabharata, Gandhari is overcome with grief. She clings sobbing to the bludgeoned bodies of her hundred sons before coming across her firstborn, Duryodhana. On seeing his lifeless body, she wails loudly for the next two minutes. Sanjukta Wagh, who is playing Gandhari in the play titled Rage and Beyond “sings” that wail, turning it into a powerful lament that brings a centuries-old sorrow alive.

“I really wanted to use chronic, melancholic notes. In the first performance, I just cried. But later, through improvisation, I was led to this. I didn’t want to stay in a comfort zone,” says the 35-year-old Wagh, who makes the komal (dissonent) gandhar an important part of these two minutes, a play on the character of Gandhari.

Before she was a mother moaning for her sons, Wagh was a shy bride entering Hastinapur after marrying the blind king Dhritrashtra, a tough empress, and then a doting, even vengeful mother. Wagh uses Kathak and Hindustani classical music to portray the various moods of Gandhari. Her solo act in Rage and Beyond fetched her six nominations at this year’s 10th Mahindra Excellence in Theatre Awards (META) and got her the best actor (female) award.

“It was extremely natural to integrate various art forms. In fact each art form lends itself to the other and does not have to negotiate and find space. It flows naturally. Even the script came from the body,” says 35-year-old Wagh, whose work is inspired by author Irawati Karve’s interpretation of Gandhari from the writer’s groundbreaking work Yuganta. “When I first came across it, post a seminar on feminism, I found it extremely prosaic. I’m used to working with music, rhythms or verse,” says Wagh. But it was after reading this contemporary interpretation of the Mahabharata that Wagh “wanted to put questions across Gandhari and know why she blindfolded herself.”

The blindfold in Gandhari’s case is an iconic image, one which sometimes takes centrestage, relegating the person behind it to the background. In Karve’s portrayal of Gandhari, the blindfold is not an act of surrender but that of defiance. “It’s an act of rage that is directed inwards. She chose to give up an important sensory organ. I think this interpretation by Karve redefines Gandhari,” says Wagh.

To prepare for the role, Wagh would often blindfold herself. “I noticed how the sense of sound and touch were extremely heightened when you were blindfolded. And then I asked myself, what about our own blindness. We are Gandharis of today’s world. Depending on what we don’t want to see, we open and shut our eyes accordingly,” says Wagh, who grew up in Mumbai in an academic environment. Arts happened after Wagh showed an inclination towards Kathak at the age of six. After many years of learning under the aegis of Rajashree Shirke, she learnt Hindustani classical music from Pt Murali Manohar Shukla and followed it with theatre training under Chetan Datar. She also trained in contemporary dance for a year in London, which, for her, was pivotal in exploring improvisation as a discipline. “If you choose to disagree with the work, it’s okay.

If you empathise with it, it’s okay. But I want people to find their own sense of empowerment or even self deception,” says Wagh, who in her next work will interpret a modern piece of poetry by writer Arundhathi Subramaniam.

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