MK Raina,theatre director and actor,on how Shambu Mitras performance moved him towards plays
There wasnt a lot of theatre in Kashmir when I was growing up,so I spent my time reading Shakespearean and Greek tragedies. But these were,at best,a part of a foreign culture that my imagination,my Indian surroundings could not adapt to. I was 21 when I visited Kolkata and found Oedipus Rex playing in a theatre,with the great Shambu Mitra in the role of king.
The only tickets available were for the first row and I grabbed them. Mitra strode onto the stage,a larger-than-life king,full of flamboyance. His exaggerated style of acting filled the stage and my jaw fell open. Here was Oedipus,a proud king,relentless in his pursuit of truth,even if it shows him as an offender. And when he finds that he has killed his father and married his mother and brought disaster upon his kingdom,he pronounces his own punishmentblinding himself with his own hands.
Mitras greatness lay in the fact that in that short time and space,he claimed Oedipus as his own and brought a complex interpretation very close to the audience. In the last scene,Oedipus enters the stage blind and crawling and,as the music rises to a crescendo,struggles to raise himself to his full height before he slowly falls down again.
Mitras performance opened other doors for me. Now,as a theatreperson myself,I begin with the question Oedipus asked himself: what is truth? Truth is at the heart of every great performance,and Mitra had found the truth of Oedipus. Later,when I went backstage,I found a regular man wiping off his make-up and thanking people who had gathered around him. But for me,he will always be Oedipus Rex. u