Naya Zamana 21 keeps Indian cultural traditions alive

al creightonThe Guyana Hindu Dharmic Sabha last week presented their annual theatre Naya Zamana 21, a theatrical adventure titled ‘Lost In Time.’  It showed a very settled, top-flight theatrical production whose serious emphasis was not on a dramatic play or plot, but on dance theatre production and tradition where its real significant achievements lie.

Naya Zamana is now 21 years old, but it did not have to wait for this 21st birthday to come of age – it has already claimed its place as a major establishment in Guyanese theatre.  It takes a permanent place on the theatrical calendar; it adds to the strength of dance theatre and further exposes the audience to Indian cultural forms – a consistent preoccupation of these productions for years.  ‘Lost In Time’ was written, directed and choreographed by Dr Vindhya Persaud, a dancer/choreographer who has etched her name in local theatre and is known for her thoroughness in stage production.  The set and costume design was by Trishala Persaud, now seasoned in these areas, but also a dancer and choreographer of note.  This production was primarily driven by dance, using a plot with a linking storyline to stitch the several dances together.

But it is the dance theatre that is its strong driving element, not the play.  Dr Persaud has gone through many years of experiment with structure and form, working extensively with Indian dance, music, drama and film in order to arrive at a working formula for Naya Zamana and now has an annual production that has settled down.  It can claim overwhelming achievements in dance, colour, spectacle, set and costuming in which Trishala Persaud has excelled, as well as in atmosphere, the quality of production, sound, lighting, management and sound effects.  These technical areas have been taken to an exemplary professional level.

The experiments over the years have included some of the best illustrations of what Naya Zamana has done while searching for its formulae.  Among the more memorable dance dramas was ‘Bollywood Dreams’, which had one of the more successful plots for a play.  It presented an ambitious dancer/actress with dreams of success in big professional productions.  The success of that script lay in its study of a heroine who had to learn to be a better person before she could realise her aspirations.  She had to get rid of jealousy, suspicion, and selfishness while learning humility, trust, friendship and loyalty.

At the top of the list of achievements was the stage performance of Ramlila.  It was most memorable for its excellence of production and performance, but also for what it did for theatre.  It gave prominence to a cultural form brought from India that used to be performed by the folk in the field in British Guyana (it has survived in Trinidad).  It was an excerpt from the Ramayana by Tulsidas and a most valuable experience on the stage.  In pursuit of a workable form Persaud produced ‘A Royal Twist’ which worked very well as a script.  This was an exploration into myth, legend and history, but it was dramatically interesting in its study of the theme of love.  The play moved in and out between the present and the past using the love story of Prince Saleem (Salim) and the slave girl Anarkali and the influences it had on a modern contemporary female theatre director who did not believe in love.  An interesting element that made this work was the actual appearance in the present of Prince Salim himself.  While its play script is not as strong as ‘Bollywood Dreams’ or ‘A Royal Twist’, this production ‘Lost In Time’ is right up there with ‘Royal Twist’ and ‘Ramlila’ for strength of production and impact on dance theatre.  It was a light plot in which two friends Aryan, played by Aryan Masi and Chiku, played by Travez Piaralell, experiment with a time machine, which surprised them by actually working.  Chiku is the real scientist while Aryan is less serious and given to romantic adventure.  They journey back in time to different periods of history but get stranded as the machine repeatedly fails to return them home.  While they experience wild adventures, they often land in trouble at the risk of their lives, escaping just in the nick of time.  At times it is Aryan’s propensity for always falling in love that gets them into trouble. Of interest is that it is a kind of picaresque adventure drama in which the heroes end up in strange places and strange situations, which sometimes allow the heroes to reflect on their own home place.

The first stop on the journey is into the realms of Hindu mythology and the story of Mahishasur and the goddess Durga – a tale important to Hinduism because of the birth and role of Durga, played here by Nirmala Persaud.  Lord Bramha grants a boon to the demon Mahishasur (Prince Viren) which fills the demon with a sense of invincibility and encourages him to wage terrible wars including even against Lords Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva.  His boon was that he could not be killed by man or god, only by a woman.  This resembles the pride of King Hiranyakashipur who received a similar boon which caused him to believe he was invincible.  But it was a false security, just as it was for Mahishasur, because Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma created the beautiful and powerful goddess Durga as the woman who defeated and killed the demon.

Chiku and Aryan escape from that era only to end up in a sixteenth century kingdom at the mercy of the Prince (Rahul Ravichandran).  The Prince is in love with the General of the army, Suhana (Dr Indhira Harry) – a woman of stunning beauty but a fierce and dedicated warrior with no time for romance. Like all the others, this part of the drama serves to bring out some of the most dynamic dances in the production.  In particular, there were the choreographies that demonstrated the military and the violence and set a fitting tone for the kind of kingdom they were in and the danger the boys faced. Their next stop was in a village in 1955 where their fate was not much different.  The malfunctioning machine planted them in danger of being captured by the dangerous village Chief Thakur (Ravichandran).  Aryan falls in love with Thakur’s sister Meera (Farzaana Khan) and thus put both himself and Chiku in danger, and continued the love story/theme in which the play was interested.

Actually, the play became more interesting because of the surprise touch at the very end.  Thakur seems to have ended up in the time machine while pursuing the escaping Aryan, unknown to anyone.  This provided an ironic reversal, since he is now lost in time and helpless, a twist of fortune providing humour while mirroring the plight of Chiku and Aryan who were almost at his mercy in 1955.  Another saving grace for the script was the characters of the two friends – Aryan’s habit of falling in ‘love’ to the point where neither Chiku nor the audience could believe he could be seriously in love.  Chiku also represented the typical comic character often found in Bollywood movies.

While there was not much of note in the acting of Masi and Ravichandran, which was often stilted, the actresses Harry and Khan were credible and enlivened their roles considerably.  They also contributed to what was the real force in the performance – the dancing.

The true impact was made in the excellence of dance theatre and production.  Persaud handled the choruses and choreographed groupings very well.  The pace hardly faltered and thorough hard work was in evidence in the choreography and dance routines that moved fluently in most sequences.  All of that was played out against the other visual production elements that made the work spectacular. These reflected the traditions of Indian dance theatre that thrives on spectacle.  Trishala Persaud’s designs were outstanding in these areas.  The elaborate and flamboyant costuming was always ostentatious and constructed with meticulous detail.  The same was the case in the set, which moved between complexity and simplicity, in most cases serving its purpose while presenting variety.

The production paid very close attention to the management of sound, considerably lofting the standards usually suffered at the Cultural Centre.  The attention to lighting was the same, as this was enhanced by special effects that added to the colour and atmosphere.  Naya Zamana 21 – Lost In Time was a reminder that the tradition of dance theatre that has developed in Guyana is strong.  Moreover, within that, it kept the Indian cultural traditions alive and showed the splendour that there is in the Indian dance theatre.  It had distinctive identity and put a stamp on the level of work that has been created in the annual productions of Naya Zamana.

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