A Review of the Grand Musical: Vrindavan
Deepa Karnad Dhurka
I dearly wish to capture, tame and contain in words the emotions experienced with Vrindavan today. In a world where superlatives are cheaply and abundantly strewn, I am flailing when I really need them. I will refrain for that reason, and also because I wish for every person reading this to be in that audience and connect with Vrindavan first hand. I will describe though what I witnessed in those immersive 90 minutes at the theater.
The twelve widows dazzle the stage with their emoting and sheer energy. These actors portray the widows’ daily community-battles, their fierce defenses needed for survival, their humor, their hopes and their secrets. With just as much ease, they reveal the gut-wrenching agony that is their reality. When they cry with raw pain, the audience cries with them. When they laugh with mirth, the audience chuckles. Masterful.
Kathak, the classical dance closest to Lord Krishna’s lore, is a feast. Set to original Marwari music, beautiful motifs fill the stage with movement, grace and color. Jamuna Paar and Jhoole Jhoolan re-enact the tales of our favorite superhero, Lord Krishna, keeping the wheels of tradition well oiled and chugging. Meera Bai comes to life in Naee Jaoon and Ranaji Mharo while the dances set to Saawan Beetyo and Bindravan Mharo Sasural portray the widows’ lives. Just when you realize the chronological ages these dances are taking us through, a bollywood piece for Saat Janam Ke Phere takes your breath away. Stunning.
The play alternates between the widows consuming the stage and the dancers. This has the distinct effect of making the widows’ white sarees starker and the dancers’ colors brighter. A few characters in pivotal roles move the story forward with impact. The pace has a good clip, with not one dull moment. The sets come alive with the waves of Yamuna, the brilliant lighting, and the fullest utilization of every nook and corner and level. There is a lot to take in and process at all times, with live music on one side, the main story center stage and sometimes a story thread on the right. And when the widows march right past you in the audience aisles, you – the audience – are now a part of the story. Did I mention ‘immersive’?
As I write this, I realize that Vrindavan is a text book for all aspects of theater, with some ground breaking innovation, pun unintended. Which brings me back to genius. Genius that is mounted on tremendous passion, motivation and hard work. I am humbled by the 78 year old actor who I was thrilled to meet after the show. Working with 20, 30, 40 year olds, she is certainly not in her comfort zone and she is loving it. The grueling work that goes into rehearsals and 9 shows in 3 weekends – she makes it look easy. She is among my role models. Another actor in a widow’s role, ran 10 miles this morning; the morning after a Friday night show and before 2 Saturday shows back to back. I can go on and on. The Props Director also plays the role of a widow. A ‘regular’ day on a weekend for her was 3-4 hours of rehearsal followed by 12 hours donning her other hat. Here’s another story I heard during the making of Vrindavan: one of the dancers hurt her foot while practicing. Not wanting to give up her spot, she refused to let it get the better of her. The pain had traveled from her foot, through her ankle and her knee in the days that followed. And she kept going. What we see and experience in the theater hall is the culmination of genius that is the crowning glory of all this and more combined.
As for my experience, I can tell you this: I cried tears. I cried those of sorrow for the widows and I cried those of joy for the art. It was providence that allowed me to be a part of this theatrical production as an observer and as audience. In one word, honored!