Friday, March 19, 2010

Reason vs. faith-Sajitha Madathil

To observe the 400th anniversary of the year Galileo first turned his telescope upward and changed the way human beings thought of their place in the cosmos, Kerala Sastra Sahitya Parishat (KSSP) staged the play ‘Galileo' in Thiruvananthapuram recently.

The play is a Malayalam adaptation of Bertolt Brecht's play ‘The Life of Galileo.' In this play Brecht explores the conflict between Galileo, the Church and scientists who refuse to abandon Aristotelian astronomy. The play also takes a bold look at the costs and implications of scientific discovery and how the repercussions of a fundamental paradigm shift rocks the very foundations of our belief systems. KSSP's selection of this play is relevant because the great religion-science clash of 1633 has in some form survived right up to our times too.

Attention to detail

With close attention being paid to stage sets, costumes, songs, sound effects, lights…, the stage was set for the tale to be told by actors (volunteers of KSSP who turned artistes).

This adapted version of the German dramatist's well-known work is directed by renowned theatre person P. Gangadharan, with the support of the KSSP team.

The play has been scheduled to cover 183 stages all over Kerala. More than 30 artistes who have been divided into three troupes are creatively involved in this month-long project, which ends on December 14.

In all sense ‘Galileo' is a free-hand adaptation. The play starts in the context of a contemporary visual media talk show. Then slowly the play travels from the discussion on whether human beings landed on the moon or not, to the terrain of Galileo's life. In this, the play mainly explores the conflict between reason and faith.

However, the play erases the human conflicts that may have deepened the text and granted different shades to it. A character like Galileo's daughter Virginia, which has been extolled by critics and which has been considered to be a key role that adds to the conflict of Church and family in the text, has been completely pushed out from the KSSP's Galileo (It may be remembered here that KSSP pioneered the all-women Kala Jatha on gender issues). This character certainly held the potential to shape the adapted text more into one in the contemporary milieu.

In the original text, Brecht uses a street singer's song to demonstrate how Galileo's ideas were trickling down to the peasantry. It is exciting the way the play portrays the influence of Galileo's thoughts among ordinary people. Visualisation of a carnival through the use of a traditional story-telling form of Kerala was intelligent in two ways — firstly, it touches you deeply to see how scientific thoughts can be interpreted for the revolution of humankind; secondly, how interestingly we are shifting to folk forms while we visualise ordinary human beings. Mani who played Galileo excelled in his role.

One may take exception to the way the songs are added in between the scenes and the traits of the old Kalajatha chorus are retained to add to the power of the text. We are still moving around the periphery of Brechtian Alienation Theory, which could have easily gone along with the performance text itself.

Anyway creating a new performance language for a Brechtian play is not obviously the concern of KSSP. Those few false notes aside, this is a magnificent production in every sense.

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