Adishakti’s new play Bhoomi is a powerful take on violence against women

Ahead of performing in Mysuru and Bengaluru next month, director Vinay Kumar and actor Nimmy Raphel tell us why this piece is close to their heart

By Reema Gowalla

Vinay Kumar was heading out for a session at the National School of Drama in New Delhi when we caught up for a quick chat about ‘Bhoomi’ — Adishakti Theatre Arts’ latest play that focusses on how we have always perceived women — in art and in real life — from a patriarchal standpoint. The problem is so deep-rooted that the prospect of looking away from that narrative, even in fiction, can cause an uproar that we are probably not ready to face yet. This play, however, is special to the institution for other reasons too. “During the tough phases of the pandemic when we struggled individually and as a group, ‘Bhoomi’ acted as a beacon of hope. The making of this play provided a sense of reassurance. It gave us the strength to sustain and navigate the uncertainties together,” says the artistic director.

After a low-key premiere at their annual ‘Remembering Veenapani Festival’ in Puducherry earlier this year, the play is now ready for its maiden tour in Karnataka — opening at Natana Theatre in Mysuru and at Ranga Shankara in Bengaluru in December. Originally written by Sarah Joseph in Malayalam, ‘Bhoomi’ is a reimagined version of the play ‘Bhoomirakshasam. Translated, adapted and directed by Vinay, the 85-minute performance features actors Nimmy Raphel, Arvind Rane, Ashiqa Salvan, Meedhu Miriyam, Sooraj S and Vinay.

Of differing perspectives and inner turmoil

Bhoomi’ is yet another extraordinary presentation by Adishakti that delves deep into the past to draw parallels between history and the contemporary world. The narrative follows the lives of two central characters — a director and her actor — who are very differently placed in their personal journeys, but both seem to be negotiating in the realm of gender, violence on gendered bodies, retribution and resolution.

The play essentially questions physical aggression against women through different discourses in history within communities and culture groups, throwing light on how patriarchy has quashed these concerns over time. A seminal piece of art, ‘Bhoomi’ — like other performances by the theatre lab — draws from mythology and scripts of the bygone era, indicating how these problems still prevail in society, influencing our collective psyche.

Vinay Kumar

“There is a constant attempt to break through the cacophony of male-dominated power structures and rewrite our own value system. This journey, however, is not bereft of inner conflict, exasperation and soul-searching. Throughout the narrative, the director — who runs an amateur theatre company — is found to question her own foundation and understanding of the art form’s aesthetics; self-analysing her own thought process; and probing the patriarchal method of theatre-making. So much so that she reaches an absolute ‘languageless’ state, where she can only hope to find an answer someday,” elaborates Vinay, who has also composed and arranged music for the play and designed the lights.

Finding balance in a complex character

Describing the setting as a play within a play, Nimmy says, “I enact the role of Ambika, who plays Araja — the daughter of Shukracharyain a performance revolving around the mythical Dandakaranya forest. ‘Bhoomi’ is an intense and nuanced piece of work that has uncanny resemblance to the real world. It’s about the experiences that we have either heard of or experienced in our life. To present the character as realistically as possible and yet maintain the subtlety within the narrative was a tough task. I have been with Adishakti for nearly 20 years and have worked in various complex dramas, but ‘Bhoomi’ has taught me a new idiom. It’s a multi-layered plot, which I am still trying to grasp in its entirety.”

Nimmy Raphel

‘The pandemic made live performances more precious’

“For artists who do not dream of graduating from stage to screen, the pandemic posed a huge threat. There were moments when it felt like the theatre was lost and that we can only dwell in the digital realm now. This made us realise more than ever how precious rehearsals and live performances are. One may argue that a true artist should be able to perform on any platform, but the energy of a physical space can never be replaced,” says the actor.

That said, Nimmy also feels that the prolonged Covid-induced isolation made her more disciplined and responsible as an artist. “At Adishakti, we worked more rigorously on our craft during the lockdown period. Even in the face of adversity, we wanted to be ready to perform whenever the theatre reopens and not be in limbo,” she adds.

Another new play…

Among Vinay’s other recent projects is a German play, titled ‘Der Traum Vom Wald’ (‘The Dream Of The Forest’), which premiered at Theatre Kiel on November 13. Talking about this piece that he directed, Vinay says, “This play tells the story of Jadav Payeng — ‘the forest man of India’ who planted nearly 40 million trees on a barren sandbar of the Brahmaputra river in Assam’s Jorhat district — and a displaced tiger, an elephant and a monkey. Primarily a children’s drama, the story is equally relevant for people from other age groups.”

According to him, the importance of raising awareness about climate change cannot be stressed enough. “Conveying this message to kids is the need of the hour, and ‘Der Traum Vom Wald’ is an effort to do that. I am hoping to recreate the play at Adishakti soon, and also possibly take the piece to a few schools around,” Vinay sums up.

‘Bhoomi’ is scheduled to be performed at Natana Theatre in Mysuru on December 4 and 5 (at 6.30 pm) and at Ranga Shankara in Bengaluru on December 11 and 12 (at 3.30 pm and 7.30 pm). You can book your tickets here.

A scene from ‘Bhoomi’

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