Rehearsal Log

Ajithlal’s Nagamandala Experience: An Exploration of Appanna and Naga

Ajithlal Sivalal played the parts of Appanna, the husband and Naga, the lover in the Malayalam production of Girish Karnad’s play, Nagamandala. He consolidated his work notes and experiences into a comprehensive document. Read excerpts below and also find the link to the entire document.

Nagamandala poster
Nagamandala poster

Decision To Do The Play

Nagamandala is an all-time favourite play so from the day I watched the play, attempting to do the play was on my mind. Few friends sent me Sunayana’s casting call but I didn’t really want to do it because I had decided to take a month off to chill and reflect. On April 15 I got Sunayana’s message about having a talk after I finish my production work. We had a small chat about the work. I asked around about her work but no one had really seen her work as such. So the next day I called her and asked a few questions:

  1. Why Nagamandala?
  2. Why Nagamandala in Malayalam in Bangalore?
  3. How are you going to do it?

I got satisfactory answers of which I remember the word ‘magic‘. She sounded confident in what she is said and that give me the confidence to say ‘yes’ to Nagamandala. I asked for food, stay, travel and profit and she said yes.

Indian Express Ajithlal
Pic Courtesy: New Indian Express

Casting Workshop

While travelling to Bangalore I read the entire script twice and planned my workshop strategy.

  1. Observe their way of working
  2. Work towards getting Kappanna or Kurudiamma’s role
  3. Don’t be too judgemental

Casting workshop was interesting in that she explored character possibilities by using indirecct ways to challenge the actors. But the way the space was arranged was a disappointment. The exercise Priya made us do on the first day seemed very basic but I reminded myself to be open to this new environment. By the end of the casting workshop I got cast as Naga and Appanna. While the workshop was in progress I could sense myself moving towards these characters.

Rehearsal And Structure Building

Predecided Dos And Don’ts

  1. Don’t to the curved palm over head to depict snake
  2. Be open as much as possible, opening up possibilities for the director
  3. Share thoughts and suggestions with the director
  4. Don’t hold back
  5. Don’t apply snake charmer sounds to snake movement
  6. Always play up rather than underplay

Initially, rehearsal started with a walking exercise intended to find the common rhythm, timing and tune of different bodies in the space. I wasn’t feeling fully warmed up because my earlier plays had heavy warmup routines. But gradually this warmup pushed me to create a new process of preparing the self for the rehearsal. The lack of a longer warm up reflected in the work during structuring in terms of breaking out of postures and adjusting the actor.

The first element of character exploration was distinguishing between Appanna and Naga’s walk. How could that be the same but also different?

  1. Created a common walk for both
  2. Embodiment of character can make a difference so played with that
  3. Naga feels the heaviness of the whole body and more line symmetry for Appanna’s body. First played Appanna at age 30 but Sunayana asked me to play it up to 35.
  4. Naga was created out of a more soft breath and zigzag nature but not fully playing it out
  5. Sharper look for Appanna and softer, infinite look for Naga (snake is technically blind so eyes are more like antenna, so keeping that sense)

These are the basic points used to explore the walk. We tried a couple of ways and Sunayana made observations and suggested corrections.

Read Ajithlal’s entire exploration of his Appanna and Naga characters here: Ajithlal’s Nagamandala Experience (PDF, 17 pages)

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