Brihanalla – Arjuna’s Disguise by Bhaskar’s Arts Academy, Singapore  in collaboration with Amrita Performing Arts, Cambodia

The audience at Esplanade Theatre Studio was treated to a feast on 5th November 2017! The sumptuous visual spread included Bharatnatyam, Kathakali, Cambodian dance and the audio ranged from music specially commissioned for the event, traditional Cambodian music as well as Kathakali Sopanam music.

A double ‘Trinity Anubhava’ as rightly mentioned by the Artistic Director Santha Bhaskar. She reminisced about a performance in 1994 in front of the Angkor Wat temple and the desire to further explore inter-cultural and multi-disciplinary exchange.  The guest of honour, the Cambodian ambassador, mentioned after the show, that the flawless merging of the Indian and Cambodian cultures was a beautiful experience that he enjoyed.

Comprising of 5 Acts interspersed with witty commentary by a contemporary Sutradhar, Tharmendra Jayaraman, who reminded the audience of how the characters in the Indian epics were far ahead of their times, in that they accepted those falling on the either end of the bell curve as easily as they accepted that which is considered ‘normal’ by society’s standards. Are we as accepting and broad-minded in today’s modern society is a point to ponder.

Act I started with a Bhartanatyam performance by Indra’s Apsaras, in honour of his son Arjuna, beautifully interspersed with Cambodian dance by Sor Sophal who played Arjuna and Nam Narim who portrayed Urvashi. Arjuna spurns Urvashi and she curses him to be a eunuch for the rest of his life. Indra’s intervenes and the curse is reduced to being a eunuch for 1 year of his life and at the time of his choosing.

Act II moved the audience into the 13th year of the Pandava’s exile and introduces Kathakali through Bheema and Panchali’s character. The performances by Malini Bhaskar and ensemble as Brihanalla and her students was a melodic and harmonic treat to watch.

Act III marked the entry of my favourite Kathakali character of the evening – Keechaka – performed by Kalamandalam Biju. Though he played a negative character, his ‘abhinaya’, the sounds he produced, his entreaties and pursuit of Draupadi endeared him to most of the audience. Bheema and Draupdadi hatch a plan which ends in ‘Keechaka Vadham’ the death of Keechaka. Throughout this act the Sopanam music of Kathakali presented as a duet by vocalists TV Sajith and TK Arun (I think)  added richness and grandeur to the performance.

Act IV portrayed how Brihanalla helps the hapless Matsya Prince fight the mighty Kurus as charioteer and later as archer. The dancers moved into a more martial dance form with a glimpse of shadow dancing portrayed the backdrop. That and the lighting effects added to the war atmosphere.

Following the victory over the Kurus,  the Vth Act celebrates the wedding of Arjuna’s Son with Uttara the princess of the Matsya Kingdom, ending the performance on a happy high note.

The seamless integration and movement from Bharatanatyam to Kathakali to Cambodian dance by the artists, the equally synchronous instrumental and vocal support and the mood changes reflected perfectly with the  lighting was a highlight throughout the performance