Chandigarh, July 25
Neelam Mansingh’s theatre continues to speak to the
world. At once indigenous and global, it beautifully illustrates the value of
universality in theatre -- something that lends Neelam’s creations their
A part of that flavour would be there for the Japanese to savour when Neelam
takes her most splendid production, “Nagamandala”, to Japan for participation in
the Indo-Japan Friendship Year celebrations. She’s the only theatre practitioner
from India to have been invited for the show, inspired by the need to bring a
scattered South-East Asia together.
“For all of us in South-East Asia, the tools of theatrical training have come
from the West. The proscenium is from the West, so are the practitioners we grew
up admiring, be it Ibson or Shakespeare. But there’s hardly a Japanese or Sri
Lankan playwright that we know. The Japan Foundation recognised the need to
establish connects between these culturally-alienated nations, that share so
much history,” said Neelam, delineating the goal of the festival.
Personally, Neelam is not unnerved at the prospect of performing in Japan as
she has earlier travelled to the country for Japan Festival of the Arts in 2003.
At that time she presented “Kitchen Katha”, another of her celebrated
productions, that fused source material with a performance style grounded in
Punjabi aesthetics. “We had Japanese subtitles. The dialogue between performers
and viewers was complete,” said Neelam.
This time around, “Nagamandala” (a Punjabi play) will also be subtitled in
Japanese to aid the process of comprehension. The choice of production was
intriguing, admits Neelam, for whom the play has special significance. This was
the play that catapulted her on the national theatre scene. She first did it in
1989, and later restructured it in 1995, on the insistence of Girish Karnad.
Even today, something about the play fascinates the creator in her. “The play
has a typically local setting. Even the snake myth is such a local metaphor for
the world of desire and knowledge that I wonder how it will get across at a
“Last week, I was in Japan for a press conference in the wake of the
festival. The idea was to offer an insight into the production that I was
getting,” said Neelam, chosen for the Japanese event by an independent
impresario, Junko Hamachan, who earlier saw her “Kitchen Katha”.
The impression lasted, so much so that Junko came down last year to
Chandigarh to witness “Nagamandala” when Neelam presented it in November. “She
responded to the play. That’s how it’s now travelling to Japan. I am excited
about the show because it’s a play that has never failed to engage my passion,”
said Neelam, whose performance will be supported by the Japan Foundation and the
Indian Embassy in Japan.
The play, written by Girish Karnad, translated into Punjabi by Surjit Patar
and set to music by the legendary B.V. Karanth, will be staged in Tokyo on
August 4 and 5.