We the People of India: Lakshman KP’s new play is narrated through a feminist lens

The cross-genre performance that focuses on Ambedkar and the central tenets of the Indian Constitution is taking the stage at Ranga Shankara today

By Reema Gowalla

After nearly 60 shows across Karnataka, director Lakshman KP’s new genre-bending play We the People of India is set to be performed at Ranga Shankara, Bengaluru. As the name suggests, the play is based on the Constitution of India, with its architect Dr Bhim Rao Ambedkar as a character in it. More than a portrayal of what’s written in the book, the piece resonates with the values and principles it stands for — equal rights and opportunities to all.

Playwright Rajappa Dalavai has written the piece, and it is presented by Bengaluru’s Jangama Collective in collaboration with Chikkamagaluru’s Abhinaya Darpana. Running for a duration of 1 hour and 40 minutes, the Kannada play mixes multiple styles and genres. “It is performed from the narrator’s perspective. The play has live music, dance, and elements of street theatre, while it’s also partly interactive and immersive in nature. We the People of India is an engaging performance. It is a collage of many things that does not necessarily conform to the art of theatre in the strict sense. So to say, it’s unique in its approach and treatment,” says Lakshman, adding, “The folklore-style of storytelling has helped the play to strike a chord with the audience. We have performed at informal set-ups and alternative spaces in places like Bijapur, Gulbarga and Raichur. In fact, the show at Ranga Shankara will be the first one to take place at a formal venue. And we are curious to see the audience’s response here.”

The play features actors Santhosh Dindgur (as Dr BR Ambedkar), Sandhya Arakere — who has also co-directed the play — (as Neelavva, the narrator), Shwetha Rani HK (as Gangavva), Shodhan Basrur (as Swargeshwara Swami), Vineeth Kumar M (as Sardar Patel), Manoj Kumar K (as Madesha), Akshatha US (as Maitreyi), Shilpa KP (as Renaki), Skanda Ghate (as TT Krishnamachari), Bhaskar Hittalamane (as Rajendra Prasad), Basavaraj Lakkimarada (as Haadugara Basya), Siddappa Madar (as Maulana Khan) and Poornima (as Begum Aizaz). Most of these artists play multiple characters in the play apart from their primary roles.

Told in an episodic format, the narrative explores the meaning of the supreme law of India and to whom it belongs. The storyline strives to build an organic connection between Ambedkar and a community of people. And this bond is highlighted by a story told to him by a mother. In the play, there are references made to the drafting stage of the Constitution, while it also delves into the importance of social democracy in our country.

Questions are asked about whether or not women had a role in framing the Constitution. And if they did, why are women in India still subjected to violence, crime and injustice. Speaking of equality and liberty, concerns over crimes against members of the LGBTQIA+ community are also raised. “The narrative is portrayed through a feminist lens. What you take away from the performance depends on how you perceive Ambedkar and the values he stood for,” adds the director.

Originally conceived in 2019 as a commissioned piece, the play has undergone a lot of changes over the years. “Taking the play to different audience groups across Karnataka also meant garnering varied feedback — some in favour of it, others not. The current version of the play is actually a recreated piece, keeping in mind the responses we have gathered in recent months,” says Lakshman, who also teaches theatre and is a trained actor.

Songs for the performance are written by Kotiganahalli Ramaiah, Prashanth Danappa and Lakshman, while the music is composed by Poorvi Kalyani and Shodhan. The instruments used in the play include the harmonium, tabla, ektara, dafli and more. Vineeth Kumar M has done the stage design and lighting. In the near future, Lakshman is hoping to take the play to more colleges and other educational institutions across the state.

We the People of India is scheduled to take place today — August 30, at 7.30pm. You can book your tickets here.

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