Nagamandala (Malayalam, 2018)


About The Play

In the ruins of a temple where the flames of lamps gather to gossip every night, a cursed playwright fights to stay awake—and alive. In desperation, he grabs hold of Rani’s story, and Nagamandala—A Play With A Cobra, unfolds.

Locked up at home by her indifferent husband Appannan, Rani fills her loneliness with stories, creating a fantastic world of dreams and half-truths. The creature in the anthill outside both scares and fascinates her. Is her fear of the cobra stronger than her desire to pursue this relationship? When Rani acts on an impulse, her reality turns upside down. How will reality reconcile with her half-truths when she becomes pregnant? How will society judge her infidelity? And how will Rani negotiate her way forward?

Originally written in Kannada by Girish Karnad, the play is adapted to Puthenchira village in Thrissur district of Kerala. Set in the midst of a ritualistic and oppressive culture, Nagamandala is Rani’s story—A Play With A Cobra. Though Rani exists only because her story is being told, we see her grow into herself while staying within her constraints. She navigates her story becoming a woman with the agency to pursue her desires.

Cast & Crew

Performers: Ajithlal Sivalal, Ashwani Manoharan, Brinda Nair, Deepak Raj, Lyria Kurian, Nalini Narayani, Richard Sunny Mathew, Sreehari Ajith, Thara Nandikkara

Playwright: Girish Karnad

Director: Sunayana Premchander

Sound Design: Anoop Unnikrishnan

Light Design: Drashti Thakkar

Scenography: Sathwik NN

Poster and Publicity Design: Felix Jackson

Producer: Shrikar Marur

Production Team: Arvind Dev, Gowtham Upadhya, Sandra Joy, Shreelakhsmi. G

Movement Director: Priya Kaul

Adaptation and Dramaturgy: Anjana Balakrishnan

Director’s Note

Nagamandala, an epic of Indian theatre, has been performed several times over but the possibilities it offers are limitless. Within the multiple worlds that it sets up, the play allows for us to interpret, reimagine and challenge our ideas of community, sexuality and agency.

Where a woman’s sexuality and identity is so closely tied to freedom from sexual violence, in the light of the horrific incidents of violence, the attempt with the play is to widen that discussion to view women as sexual beings outside of and despite this. When faced with the binary of either complete acceptance or rejection, how does one find agency and empowerment even in the face of oppression?

Nagamandala, through its mystical union of human and non-human gives us the opportunity to reimagine the idea of the ideal lover—challenging standard notions of masculinity, safety and pleasure.

The play has the potential to do all this, and at the same time show us the paradox of stories—that they exist because they are told, yet once told have a life of their own. Pushing this idea further, spinning Rani’s life off on its own beyond Katha, her narrator, has been the most interesting part of the process. It’s also been satisfying to have Rani find her voice and choice, within and out of the life she was given.