Stories from the Mahabharata make fabulous plays. Many theatre companies have adapted various sections from the mighty epic and portrayed their own interpretations on stage. While this could be a tad difficult for camera – the Censor Board takes a keen interest in what goes into cinema halls – theatre productions are usually given the leeway. This is mainly due to the difference in the standard and number of audiences between movies and plays. Many plays on the Mahabharata have discussed issues from the epic that would make a scandal on scene. Faezeh Jalali – a popular theatre artist, who has also acted in films – brings the story of Shikhandi to stage, in the famous Experimental Theatre at the NCPA.
For those who didn’t know, Shikhandi is the story of the earliest trans-character in mythology. Perhaps this is why you haven’t heard of the character because he is not likely to be shown on screen. But this character is very important from the point of view of mythology. Born female and raised male, Shikhandi played a pivotal role in the death of Bhishma, and the subsequent win of the Pandavas in the Kurukshetra war. Other instances from Shikhandi’s life are explored like his sex change on his wedding night, the escape to the forest, and the fulfillment of his destiny.
The point of Shikhandi is not to retell a story, but a retelling of THE story. It is the story of in-betweens – the transgenders. While the Hindu epic is interspersed with various instances of gender transformations (the form of Mohini taken by Lord Vishnu, and Arjun’s transformation into Brihannala, for example), transgenders themselves are shunned by modern society. The fight for LGBT rights is now gaining popularity, but they are far from being treated as equals. Shikhandi explores various dimensions of a transgender’s life – the struggle with identity, the fulfillment of one’s goal, and to arrive at a conclusion for the confusion.
Faezeh Jalali’s troupe takes on this mammoth task and portrays it effectively. Shikhandi leaves a deep impact on the audience, being one of those plays that entertain and at the same time make you think. What especially stands out is Jalali’s treatment of the play. Using rhymes, classical music, traditional dance, and aerial movement, Shikhandi is the best of everything put together. If you have watched Tamaasha Theatre’s Blank Page earlier this month, or Adishakti’s The Tenth Head, you may have an idea of what Shikhandi does on stage. With an exceptional cast of mainly former graduates of The Drama School of Mumbai, the actors show off their skills in a neat and sophisticated manner. Maybe a little too sophisticated, as the choreographed movements sometimes take the attention away from the narrative, which can be astute to one watching a play for the first time.
Overall, theatre-goers must not miss this play. It ticks off all the boxes – it is entertaining, thought-provoking, relevant, and performed brilliantly. The cast, music, movement, and visuals all come together superbly to give you a performance worth watching more than once. To know when Shikhandi is happening again, you can book your tickets here.