Monday, April 29, 2013

Bhavni Bhavai - Ketan Mehta

Bhavai is the popular theater form prevalent in Gujarat, which is said to have roots in the fourteenth century. Associated this art form to Asait Thakore, a brahmin from Siddpur,  He was excommunicated from the caste after an incident involving lower caste member, he married from that community and targlas , born out of this union of two castes, became famous for these traditional performance of Bhavai folk theater. Asait Thakore,himself supposed to have written more that 360 plays.

Inspired by this tradition of story telling Ketan Mehta, directed a film in 1980 ( in Gujarati) called Bhavni Bhavai ( A tale of Life), which went on to win many awards and accolades. The celebrated movie screen play was later reconstructed and translated to English by Shampa Banerjee.

The familiar theme of caste struggle, the system of untouchables , one which made Asait Thakore an outcast continue to be the point of discussion here. The story is being told by a old man, in a travelling 'low class' group of people, to his grandson, as they rest during the journey. A folk tale, concerning the king and the well is planning to dig. According to the astrologer, a human sacrifice is needed, and only a person with the 32 qualities to see water in the well. The man is found in a lower class family , who as we all know, is the son of the king himself, who was a victim of a clever palace power game between the old and young queens. The old queen is blessed with a son after many prayers and offers, but the clever treachery by the young queen made sure that the infant is taken out of the palace and be killed. The soldiers entrusted with the task felt pity for the infant prince , and instead sent him floating in a basket in the nearby river. The turn of the events saw that the boy was rescued by a low class family and after many many years, the prince, now a young boy was again fallen as the victim of the clever plots of the young queen and the minister.

Classical absurdist theater with a clear influence of Brecht's ( the movie is dedicated to him ) , Ketan Mehta build a very visual representation ( even in these words) of the socio-political issue of caste and religion. As is the tradition with folkish theater, this is filled with classical humour, often silly and comical. While we are discussing the book here and not the movie, one is to observe the clinical precision of the scenes including the physical presence of both people and objects. As one can see, the movie is noted for its structural brilliance, and the treatment of the taboo subject of untouchability, with the nice mix of current day socio-political aspect, being told through the folktale. The translation is impeccable and never once one felt the issues related to the idioms, expressions or the anglicized use of Indian words.

Bhavni Bhavai ( 1986 )

Ketan Mehta ( translated from Gujarati by Shampa Banerjee )

Seagull Books

121 Pages

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