In my younger years, summer was a time when we looked forward to the arrival of touring ‘drama companies’ and ‘Yakshagana Mela‘ that would perform all through the night. The company would arrive and pitch a large tent in a ground in the town/village two days before the performance, which was enough to get people talking about it. Publicity was old fashioned, with ‘handbills’ and auto-rickshaws with microphones that alerted everyone in fifteen kilometer radius. But word of mouth spread faster than advertising, since people eagerly awaited these programs. It was almost assumed that everyone in the town would end up at the ground on the night of the performance. I can’t recall missing many of those Yakshagangas, even if it meant sleeping through half the performance, to be awakened by someone next to me when an exciting part of the play is about to begin.
Opening of the play, photographed with a mobile camera.
Today, however, few performances last all through the night. In those days, people travelled for these performances by buses, foot, bullock-carts and other means that did not let them go home in the middle of the night. But today, with everyone riding or driving their own vehicles, combined with a reduced attention span, duration of the performances has dwindled to three to five hours.
Malegalalli Madumagalu is an attempt to recreate the glory of those days by director C Basavalingaiah. First conducted as an experiment in Mysore’s Rangayana, it was a huge success and is now being repeated in Bangalore. The program in Bangalore is organized by Department of Kannada and Culture of the government of Karnataka, and the play is held in a huge open-air theater at Kalagrama behind Jnanabharati Campus.
An eight hour play may seem daunting for most people, but you will rarely feel bored anytime during the performance. The play portrays life in small villages in the malnad region of Karnataka, set some time in early twentieth century. It begins with a long, entertaining introduction of the location where the play is set and characters involved. It soon begins intertwining the relationships between the characters, their everyday ordeals and their hope to find a comfortable life. The story involves a complex web of relationships between people of the villages, such as the parents who want to find well-off grooms for the bride, boys and girls of age who are discovering themselves, the elders of the village who want to set things in order without hurting their own self interests, men of immorality and women who try to keep away from them and the complex hierarchy in the villages that tries to set all of these in a sane order.
The play is a balanced mix of light and dark humour besides a social drama of things that can put you to thinking. It’s an adaptation of well-known novel of the same name by Kuvempu.
The characters form a wide array of people who could be seen in a traditional village. The grand ‘sets’ in the wide open theater instantly ports you to a village surrounded by a thick forest in a pre-independence era. The play moves through four different outdoor sets with short breaks in between that helps your body revitalize from the pains of sitting in the same place. There is hardly any moment during the long play that makes you go to sleep, but for a short thirty minutes length in the 6th hour where the spaghetti-like turns in the story can create a confusion and slow you down a bit.
If you haven’t had a chance to grow up with overnight performances from ‘drama companies’ or ‘yakshagana melas’, you should not miss this nightlong perfromance of Malegalalli Madumagalu.
The show is on till the end of this month, with seven more performances to go. Tickets can be booked on bookmyshow.com - http://in.bookmyshow.com/plays/Malegalalli-Madhumagalu/ET00014596