Once upon a time
After staging plays by foreign writers, Mandala Theatre has forayed into an original Nepali folktale, with a sharp contemporary socio-political message.
Jalini is a short story in Dhruba Satya Pariyar’s book Kairan that was shortlisted for this year’s Madan Puraskar, and adapted by the author and director Dayahang Rai into a play that is a satire with a message of inclusion.
An arrogant king wants to stand out in history, and is told he will do so only if his daughter makes a sketch of him. He imprisons her in a palace so that she can see no other man.
The folktale of Rapunzel springs to mind. Even the Buddha was confined to his palace so that he could not see the sufferings of the world. But, as expected, the unseen holds the most fascination, which is what happens to Jalini.
Read also: Highway, Sophia Pande
Degree Maila, Sunir Pandey
Jalini's story attempts to trace how the imprisonment of women in homes leads to their subjugation, and secondary place in society. It is not just Jalini's body that is confined, but her heart and mind as well. And this just to satisfy the whims of a king unhinged with power. Jalini is not just a princess but a symbol of womanhood, and you will have to go watch the play if you want to find out if she finally breaks out of her confinement.
The stage is taken up by a powerfully choreographed movement of the kingdom’s good citizens labouring to construct a palace for Jalini. A woman named Jaljala (so named perhaps to remind us of the mountain in Rukum that became a symbol of the Maoist revolution) speaks out boldly against tyranny, and the plot thickens as Jalini is brought to confront a world she had never seen.
The king's attempts to force the people to do his bidding as he ignores their hardships is reminiscent of despotic regimes today. He takes pride in how he has decorated the walls of his palace with pictures of his long-suffering subjects, and thinks that passes for doing something to uplift them. This is obviously a satire on the tokenism and lips service to inclusion in present day Nepal.
Read also: Tandro, Rabin Giri
All the men and women merely players, Sewa Bhattarai
The play entertains even as it subtly draws the audience to think about caste and gender discrimination. The music changes from dramatic to romantic and fantastic depending on the scenes, adding an audio element to the stagecraft. There are loose ends: some mysteries are not solved even till the end, and there is a distracting scene of a prime minister who does not have a major role in the plot.
Bijay Baral as the king deserves special mention for his perfect comic timing. Dayahang Rai, the film actor who began his career in theatre has come back a full circle to the stage. He tries not to make this love story with a political message too preachy or predictable, and he largely succeeds in giving Pariyar’s fairy tale a hopeful and optimistic tint in a darkly cynical world.
5:30 PM everyday except Monday
Mandala Theater, Until Oct 7