The first aspect of the play Crossing to Talikota that strikes one is the huge and wide canvas the play is mounted upon, with a cast of 30 actors and theatre stalwarts such as Ashok Mandanna, Veena Sajnani, Darius Taraporvala and Arjun Sajnani playing pivotal roles.
Directed by Arjun Sajnani, the play, the last one written by renowned and revered playwright and author Girish Karnad, will have its world premiere in Bengaluru on October 2 this year, with shows on 3, 4, 5, 6 and 20 October as well.
The Battle of Talikota (January 23, 1565) was a watershed battle fought between the Vijayanagara empire and an alliance of the Deccan sultanates who united in order to defeat ‘Aliya’ Rama Raya. The battle took place at Talikota, today a town in northern Karnataka, about 80 kilometres to the southeast of Bijapur.
The foundation of a play is its script. Girish Karnad had once remarked that writing a script was like building a home brick by brick. The intensity and structure of the script of Crossing to Talikota was the aspect that well-known theatre personality and director Arjun Sajnani found fascinating. Arjun Sajnani and Girish Karnad go back a long way; they are first and most importantly friends.
Girish Karnad excelled in exploring and excavating the realms of history. Arjun has directed two of Girish’s plays in the past – The Fire and the Rain and Tughlaq. Arjun shares that it is a huge responsibility and challenge to bring such a seamless script to life and do full justice to the writer and the script. For the first time Arjun shares that they had readings of the play two months before it went on the floor. The script is certainly powerful and textured that there is space for each actor to interpret his or her role, large or small, soaking in the essence of the script and delving into the intricate nature of the script. Relationships play a big part here. The relationship between Rama Raya and Adil Shah runs like a thread across the script from start to finish.
The play spans through numerous locations – Vijayanagar, Bijapur, Golconda, Kalyan and Bidar, and technology has been roped in for the audience to enjoy the beauty of the liberal use of locations.
Ashok Mandanna, who plays the main character of ‘Aliya’ Rama Raya, says, “It’s definitely a challenging responsibility. First, the character Rama Raya is 75 years old when the play begins and around 83 or 84 when he goes to war for the last time. There is hubris as well as complex emotions in the man – and they run deep. I had to find an emotional link. Then there are aspects that history has ascribed to the man – a great general, an able diplomat yet arrogant.”
Talking about the role, Ashok continues, “It has been an experiential journey to go through the personal emotions of Rama Raya wherein he is still fighting a battle within himself pertaining to his lower caste and still being called ‘Aliya’ or son-in-law. The role I’m playing is a bit more complex than the name ‘Aliya’ Rama Raya suggests. Girish’s play doesn’t just explore the last few years of the Vijayanagar kingdom but also explores the role Rama Raya played in its downfall. His character and demeanour. His sense of lower caste status and the fact that he has not lost a battle in 40 years. He takes a terrible decision and brings an entire empire down – that’s Girish’s take on it.”
Veena Sajnani, who plays Rama Raya’s wife Satyabhama, has a rich and varied experience having acted in 30 plays and movies. She shares that theatre has always been her first love and that it was lovely to get back on stage and reconnect with old friends after a long time.
Viveck Jayant Shah, who plays Hussain Nizam Shah, the Sultan of Ahmadnagar, shares that it is good to be back on stage after 14 years and be a part of history in the making. He has just turned 50, so he is looking to do more theatre for the next 25 to 30 years covering all genres.
Ashok adds, “This is Girish Karnad’s last play and the responsibility of bringing it to life rests on our shoulders, not a small responsibility. In the context of his recent passing, more so. This is also a historical and many, many people know about the rise and fall of the Vijayanagar kingdom, a story close to the hearts of so many in our state of Karnataka. My personal hope is that we find some joy in adding to the overall picture we present towards another interesting chapter in our theatre and actual history and bring a twinkle and smile to Girish’s soul.”
The music for the play is by Prakash Sontakke and costume design by Pia Benegal. Lighting is by Pradeep Belawadi and production design by Arun Sagar.
The play is supported by Rohini and Nandan Nilekani philanthropies.