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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 12 December 2018

Sutradhar: telling a Mahabharata story with a modern twist

We speaks to the director behind the 'Amazing Dubai' musical about his upcoming Indian play

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - Sanjeev Dixit, the man behind the Amazing Dubai musical rehearsing a new play opening in Dubai next weekend in a community centre at The Greens. Leslie Pableo for The National
DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - Sanjeev Dixit, the man behind the Amazing Dubai musical rehearsing a new play opening in Dubai next weekend in a community centre at The Greens. Leslie Pableo for The National

The opening sequence is of a tense dance, accompanied by a persistent beat from a drum and a haunting melody from one flute. Two men and two women flit around the stage, precise in their movements, which escalate in intensity into an almost ­uncomfortable, sudden stop rife with raw emotion. The dancers disappear to make way for the actors.

“Oh the ravages of time, how they twist and turn. What was then, is now. What is now, may never be again.”

And with that, Sanjeev Dixit’s latest original play, ­Sutradhar, begins. In it, a kingdom is under siege, and its people in despair. A wounded king is considering the terms of his surrender, while his daughter, a princess, has to accept that her betrothal to the enemy will be part of the negotiation. A twist of fate, and her brother is forced to suffer the consequences.

Love, duty, betrayal, vengeance and the ravages of war; the themes Dixit explores in his latest creation are heavy, and inspired by the Greek classics. There is even a hint of a Grecian chorus in the telling of the tale. “It’s a completely original play that I wrote myself over the course of many months, but the themes and the story, they are an interpretation from both the Greek classics and based on stories from the Mahabharata, with certain events and characters straight from the scriptures,” says Dixit, referring to the ancient Sanskrit epic poem from India that tells the story of the rivalry between the Kuru and Panchala tribes, based on a real war that took place in the 13th or 14th century BC. It is regarded both as a historical account of Hinduism, as well as a code of ethics for the faithful.

“I use known characters and situations from the Mahabharata, but I have modernised it; I use what modern values we have and from understanding the world around us right now, and present the story in a contemporary context that anyone can relate to,” Dixit explains. This is immediately apparent as the play unfolds. The plot is tense and fast-paced, and the viewer is quickly drawn in to the events developing on stage.

“The key idea behind this play is to explore some characters that appear in the Mahabharata, which is a treasure trove of incredible stories well-known to the people of India,” the playwright explains. “But I wanted to look at certain things: how did these stories start? How did they influence the characters to become who they are later on?”

And Dixit wants to make something clear. “I don’t think that it’s necessary to know the epic to enjoy the play, it’s a completely stand-alone story by itself. I think it can be appreciated purely as a story of this small kingdom and how the war happening around them affects the lives of the characters, influences their behaviour and how their characters change over time.”

Dixit is no stranger to telling compelling tales. The Dubai resident is a writer, director and actor from India, and was the man behind last year’s Amazing Dubai musical, which played at Madinat Theatre for six months straight. He has also won the Best Production and Best Director awards two years running at the annual Short+Sweet Festival, and has had his original productions performed to packed houses at the Emirates Litfest Fringe, the Sikka Art Fair and the inaugural edition of Short+Sweet Hollywood.

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The play’s cast are members of the Third Half Theatre group: 15 men and women of various backgrounds and nationalities, all with full-time jobs who have a passion for theatre that they pursue after hours. Sutradhar will debut to Dubai audiences tonight at The ­Junction in Alserkal Avenue. “We picked The Junction because it is a very intimate space and the audience can really feel [like a] part of what is happening on stage, which I wanted. They have as much a part to play as the characters, and I wanted that intimacy,” he says. Not to mention, he adds, the dearth of places to host community theatre events in Dubai, especially since Ductac closed down.

“I want this to be the window into Indian literature and tradition in a context that is multicultural and appreciated by the cosmopolitan audience of the UAE,” he says. “I’m sure we can travel with this play across the UAE, and I would love to have it performed everywhere, to audiences across the country. Who knows? Fingers crossed.”

Sutradhar will be performed at The Junction in Alserkal Avenue twice on Saturday at 4pm and 7.30pm. Tickets cost from Dh100, and are available at platinumlist.net