x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Meena Das Narayan's Darkness of Night brings yakshagana to a new audience

The Dubai magazine editor Meena Das Narayan has made a film that brings the southern Indian theatre form yakshagana to a new generation.

Meena Das Narayan's film Darkness of Night, which is about yakshagana, will be shown at Dubai International Film Festival in December. Vinod Paul
Meena Das Narayan's film Darkness of Night, which is about yakshagana, will be shown at Dubai International Film Festival in December. Vinod Paul

Meena Das Narayan is a multifaceted personality. The editor-in-chief of the luxury magazine Gulf Connoisseur counts painting and poetry as major interests, but filmmaking is her great passion.

Narayan’s first film, Making of a Maestro, was a documentary about the kathakali legend Kalamandalam Gopi. Kathakali is a classical Indian dance-drama from Kerala.

Narayan’s second film, Darkness of Night, also concerns a traditional dance and theatre form, yakshagana, from Karnataka. Yakshagana is a mix of dance, drama and music that requires the actors to don dramatic costumes and headgear and express themselves through graceful movement, facial expressions and dialogue. Many mythological stories have been depicted through yakshagana.

Narayan’s love of dance goes back to her childhood. “Growing up in Pune, I enjoyed attending dance and art shows my parents took me to,” she says.

“But today’s urban kids and youth are not getting the same exposure to tradition.” It is this concern and her love for yakshagana which led Narayan to produce and direct Darkness of Night, which has a story all youngsters will certainly relate to.

The film is about two young men who are IT professionals by the day but yakshagana performers by night. They’re passionate about yakshagana and work hard to make time for it.

“The characters value art as much as their profession,” says the actor Sneha Bhagwat, who plays Shruti in the film. “And traditions need to be taken across generations,” adds Narayan.

The story also has a love triangle and deals with the confusion and emotions any average twentysomething goes through. “That is where the film picks its title from,” Narayan says.

Yakshagana has been unable to attract the younger generation in part because of its long, stretched-out stories and dialogue.

“Our film has shown how yakshagana can be modernised to attract the youth,” says Narayan.

The characters in the film have shortened the stories and dialogues and brought in more action. Men playing female characters have been replaced with young attractive women.

But the authenticity and the true tradition of yakshagana has been followed throughout the film. “Keremane Shivananda Hegde, the legendary yakshagana artiste, has been our expert consultant for this film,” says Narayan.

Shivananda’s father Keremane Shambhu Hegde, a national award-winner for yakshagana, died during one of his performances. Shivananda picked up the mantle and is now taking his father’s legacy forward.

Along with his troupe, Shivananda has given hundreds of performances the world over, including in the Middle East. He has acted in Darkness of Night, too.

“I believe that film is a great medium to popularise yakshagana,” he says.

Shot in Bangalore in 15 days, Darkness of Night has been made for an international audience. Narayan employed Richard W Black, a screenwriter from Hollywood, to script the film.

“I wanted the film to be as natural and close to life as possible,” she says. Black’s script has given the drama a Hollywood edge.

The film will be in Indian theatres next month, in English, Malayalam and Kannada.

It will be a part of the Dubai International Film Festival this December and will later participate in the Cannes Film Festival.

After two films, does Narayan plan to take a break? “No,” says the 53-year-old with enviable energy. “I’m already working on my next film, which is a thriller and will be released next year.”


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