Written and adapted by Ravi Jain and Miriam Fernandes
Photo’s by David Cooper courtesy of the Shaw Festival
Karma – the sum of a person’s actions in this and previous states of existence viewed as deciding their fate in future existences.
In the late fall of 2018 I was invited to attend a cast party by a friend who works at the Shaw Festival. Upon arrival I was delighted to see that there was a band setting up in the lower level of the Royal George theatre, the band was using traditional East Indian instruments and before long there was music and dancing with a cast made up of Indo Canadian actors. The cast was part of a production in the works that featured the story of the Mahabharta, one of the foundational epics of India. In a collaboration with Ravi Jain and Miriam Fernades of Why Not Theatre, there was a scripted version being written expressly for the Shaw. It is exciting to see how the Shaw is embracing diversity which is now so important to be shared with everyone.
The production and development fell victim to the tight restrictions that were implemented due to the pandemic. Five years later (7 years overall), and through no fault of their own, Mahabharta in two parts, Kharma and Dharma has become a reality. What great patience and determination all the players involved must have had to keep it going until it’s fruition.
The Mahābhārata story was compiled between the 3rd century BCE and the 3rd century CE, making it over 4,000 years old. The story is very complex as it weaves its way to the audience, and it is important to remember to not get caught up in the names or layers of family generations, but to focus mostly on the lessons that are learned from the conflicts during these times.
Miriam Fernandes plays the Storyteller; her clear voice and timely inflections keep you riveted as you follow the parables she is telling. A simple set design in the background, leaves the audience to focus mostly on the players and what is being said.
Kharma (Part One), features non-stop traditional Indian background music which rises and falls depending on what’s taking place on the stage. The actors move with precision using dance moves and choreography as they illustrate the conflicts and relationships that have arisen over the years. At many points I found myself relating to the messages which apply to our own earthly conflicts in the world today. Unfortunately, Kharma ends with the declaration of war between two groups of cousins, the Kauravas and the Pandavas, seeing no way forward to resolve their desire to rule.
The greatest wonder is that every day creatures die, yet the rest continue to live as if they are immortal.
Dharma – the eternal and inherent nature of reality, regarded in Hinduism as a cosmic law underlying right behaviour and social order (your purpose).
Dharma (Part Two), is quite different in its delivery. Using technology and screen projections with a bombastic orchestrated score, the room is filled with intensity and struggle as the two family’s clash. Fighting to their death the war has left many lifeless bodies and the destruction delivers no joy in it’s victory. What is the meaning of war? We are subjected to it everyday as we watch it unfold on our televisions, bringing this story into 2023.
When the fighting is finished Shiva (The Destroyer in Hindu religion) dances around the stage as the characters mourn their losses. There is a great feeling of sadness as the two sides count their losses.
Enter the most beautiful, ethereal and inspirational moments in Shaw history. Performed to perfection by Meher Pavri, an opera singer, the audience is treated to her song as written Sandskrit philosophy with English translations appear on the screen. The messages are deep and meaningful, making this one of the most epic moments I have seen on the Shaw Festival stage.
Mahabharta has a limited run in Niagara-on-the-Lake so there is very little time from now til March 26th to see it live as the production will embark on a world tour immediately after.
Special thanks to Tim Carroll, Artistic Director for his incredible vision bringing this to life.
For tickets visit www.shawfest.com
Review by Jenifer Cass