In the large classroom on the top floor of Bhavan’s College in Andheri, the desks have been pushed against the walls. The space created is occupied by two people: one is thespian Kumud Mishra, who is on the floor picking up shards of a glass he has knocked over. The other, theatre actor Sandeep Shikhar, is looking at him with disdain. The room is silent and the air heavy with tension before Mishra’s booming voice echoes through, his ire directed towards Shikhar’s character. In the next second, Mishra’s rage vanishes, and as he playfully looks towards director Abhishek Majumdar for help with his lines.
“This is the first rehearsal in four months, so the play is still coming to us,” says Majumdar who brings his critically acclaimed play Kaumudi (Moonlight) to the city for the first time. Mishra plays Satyasheel, a veteran actor who performs the role of Eklavya all his life, but has been asked to step down because of his fading eyesight. Shikhar essays the role of Paritosh, an up-and-coming actor who is also Satyasheel’s estranged son. “Firstly, he is struggling with the idea of never playing Eklavya again. Parallelly, there’s a conflict between him and Paritosh, who performs the role of Abhimanyu, the son of Eklavya’s nemesis Arjun, in the play,” says Majumdar.
In the play-within-the-play, at Kurukshetra, when Abhimanyu struggles to break the chakravyuh, the story moves away from the original Mahabharata as Eklavya’s ghost appears as the only entity who can help him do it. “The provocation for the script came from the Malayalam book I read in college,Vyasam Vigneswaram by Anand in which Eklavya and Abhimanyu are in conversation. The idea of extrapolating that dialogue stayed with me,” says the playwright-director. Then, two years ago, he read Jorge Luis Borges’s essay Blindness where the Argentine writer talks about his experience of losing eyesight. Majumdar has combined the essence of these two texts for the premise of his play. “At its crux, the play questions how an artiste treats his art – does it become bigger than life itself, and what of the victims of this decision.”
Majumdar came to Mumbai with the first draft of the play hoping to sign Mishra. “Kumudji was working on Manav Kaul’s Shakkar Ke Panch Daane then. I’d written the part with him in mind,” he says. Over the next few weeks Majumdar put together a fine ensemble comprising Mishra, Shikhar, Gopal Datt Tiwari and Shubhrahyoti Barat. Mishra reveals this is one of the most satisfying roles he has played. “Satyasheel is extremely versatile; one second he’s fallen flat on his face because of his eyesight, and in the next, he’s on the stage roaring on the battlefield with the confidence of a king. Back in reality, he’s crippled with fear and anxiety of not being able to perform anymore.”
The play premiered in Bangalore in April to a packed audience. “We reheared for 12-14 hours for two months, and then Abhishek would send us back with homework on our characters,” Mishra says. Shikhar agrees that the play was as demanding, but says it was equally enriching, “The dialogues are beautiful. You don’t get to speak such Hindi except in classical plays.” Majumdar has plans for Kaumudi to travel the country this year. “We’ll be taking the play to Rangashankara festival in Bangalore, NSD, International Theatre Festival of Kerala and Pune,” Majumdar says.