It was in 2019 that the Bengaluru-based artistic institution Prabhat-Temple of Art premiered its biggest dance musical, 18 Days—Dusk of an Era and had four sold-out shows in the city. Plans were made to take the production, featuring more than 50 artists, to different cities across south India, as well as to Ahmedabad and Odisha. However, the pandemic upset all plans. Now, the epic production based on the Kurukshetra war from the Mahabharata is all set to be staged in New Delhi from 2-4 December at the Kamani Auditorium.
The scale of the production can be gauged from the fact that the 50 plus artistes on stage will be performing art forms such as Bharatanatyam, Kathak, Kalaripayattu, Yakshagana, and more, while more than 20 technicians will be working on the animation, magic tricks, costumes, make-up, light and sound design.
The concept, direction and choreography has been handled jointly by siblings Bharat and Sharat R Prabhath. They have worked on the music composition, scripting, creative and technical direction as well.
Sharat, who has written the script of the show, was clear that they did not want to base their production on any interpretation of the epic. “The base for the script is the original text of the Mahabharata composed by Veda Vyasa,” he says. The production starts with the questioning of Krishna’s decisions and strategies and concludes by proving that nothing is greater than dharma (or duty, not to be confused with religion). “It is for dharma that Krishna takes certain decisions and employs certain strategies. The reason is not self-centred but societal and universal. That’s the soul of the play,” he adds.
The show encompasses important episodes from the 18 days of the Kurukshetra war, such as the deaths of Bheeshma, Karna, Abhimanyu and Duryodhana. The conversations between Veda Vyasa and Ganesh, Krishna and Ved Vyasa, Krishna and Karna, among others, are also woven in. Sharat also essays the role of Krishna in the play.
A trained kathak dancer and an exponent of the Harikatha art form, Sharat believes that the only way ahead is to go back to our roots. Therefore, all the art forms they have chosen for the production have their base in the oldest grantha of art—the Natyashastra.
The idea behind presenting different art forms is not just for the sake of showcasing the skills of the artists, but also in keeping with the context of the tale. “For instance, if we are showing the story of Ghatotkacha, who was born out of the union of a human (Bheema) and a rakshasi (Hidimba), we cannot show him doing Bharatanatyam on stage because that will not go with his upbringing,” Sharat points out.
The production also relies heavily on the use of technology to bring alive the musical. Levitation techniques, animation and aerial acts contribute to what promises to be a visual spectacle for the audience. From Arjuna and Krishna’s entry on the stage in slow motion to watching Ghatotkacha’s army fall from the ceiling above, Bharat has employed technical devices on the stage to bring about a cinematic effect.
With the number of art forms on display and the elaborate set design, costuming, light and sound effects, it is natural to be overwhelmed by a production of this scale. It also runs the risk of undermining the narrative aspect of the play. However, he points out that the one thing critics who have seen the show have agreed upon is that 18 Days—Dusk of an Era is a powerful retelling of dharma. The productions will have a few shows in Bengaluru before heading to Goa for the Serendipity Arts Festival 2022.
18 Days—Dusk of an Era has six shows at Kamani Auditorium, New Delhi from Dec 2-4, 5 pm and 7.30 pm