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Shikhandi − A Brilliant Performance

Supriya Newar

Eight power house actors accompanied by live music including violin, percussions and vocals, held the audience in a theatrical grip as they re-told the tale of Shikhandi, a significant character of Mahabharat who spells death for Bhishma Pitamah, the leader of the Kaurav side of the epic war of Kurukshetra.

The director Faezah Jalali did well to establish the story line and context for those who may not have been well-versed with either the plot or the character, of how Amba prays to Lord Shiva so she may avenge herself from Bhishma Pitama. As per the Lord’s boon, she is reborn in her next life as Shikhandi and is destined to achieve her goal. But there’s one problem. She is born an in-between – neither a full male nor a full female. Her/His father though insists that he is a man and raises him accordingly. Shikhandi of course is confused and utterly troubled, till she manages to escape to a forest where she ‘exchanges’ her feminine assets for masculine ones so that she may consummate her marriage and eventually fulfil her destiny.

What is brilliant about this 90-minute watch sans an interval, is the ease with which the actors play multiple roles using classical dance forms with grace, delivering flawless dialogues in verse and managing to raise several questions about gender roles and mindsets that were as relevant a few millennia ago as they perhaps are now, without the script sagging, dragging or getting dull.

Experimenting with form and content, the director cheekily manages to sneak in lyrics and tunes from the film Lagaan when depicting war, the Tabu number ‘Payale chun mun chun mun’ from Virasat to present the first night of Shikhandi’s marriage and the five prime time words – ‘The nation wants to know!’

Draupadi is shown as the lass who is sassy and preps her five husbands up for war; Shiva descends from above onto earth, showing off great gymnastic moves on the way and the director can’t resist comparing a bunch of reporters who are show questioning King Dhrupad to a machli bazaar!

Cleverly and engagingly scripted and masterfully performed, Shikhandi gives you enough opportunity to laugh if you have a sense of humor, teasing you with existing double standards on gender and misogyny and perhaps leaving you with one over arching irony of how Bhishma who was blessed with the boon of immortality until he chose his own death and who had sworn never to fight a woman is ironically killed by one, albeit over two lives and gender fixes.

With a great beginning, a meaningful middle and a climactic end, Shikhandi is a play that is anything but an in-between!

 

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