What do you expect before watching a play in a theatre? Naturally, you look forward to the actors and their proficient acting abilities and a well-prepared stage adorned with various props that bring the story to life as the scenes progress.
I expected the same while watching Buddha Ra Bhikhari at Mandala Theatre, Kathmandu, which began on May 31. But what I expected and what happened on the stage were totally different from my anticipation.
Like everyone, I expected to see actors on stage, however, when the play began things were different. The theatre lights were shut off and there was darkness everywhere. Soon I realised there were no actors on stage either.
All I could see was a white cloth hung on the wall that faced the audience. And as the play began, shadows of mice, who were excited to listen to a story about a beggar, began projecting on it. This and more technical aspects of the play stand out on stage, which makes it unique among the ongoing trend of storytelling on stage.
Simple but unique
Directed by Anil Subba and written by Chetan Angthupo, Buddha Ra Bhikhari is based on a folk tale of the Buddha where a beggar is on a journey to meet Gautam Buddha to find some answers concerning his life. You might find the play’s story simple but its presentation is extraordinary. They are unique and mesmerising.
One aspect that sets this play apart is its unique genre: Shadow Puppetry. It is safe to say that this play stands as a true beacon of innovation and originality. Moreover, it has ventured into unexplored territory, attracting audiences with its stunning visual storytelling technique.
Since the Buddha Ra Bhikhari does not follow the regular rules of a play, the audience might find the first few minutes strange. But as the play continues, it flows in an interesting manner.
The personified mouse, cat, eagle, hen and other creatures keep you entertained till the end. The music, written and composed by director Subba himself, equally entertains the audience.
The only thing that the play lacks is the expression of the characters. Since the characters of the plays are projected by the shadows, their expressions remain the same throughout the entire play. However, the makers have done a commendable job to address this limitation.
They have ingeniously bridged the gap in character expression through the masterful implementation of live voice-over by the artists involved. Their abilities to bring the characters to life through their vocal performances have depicted the much-needed emotions and nuances.
The lighting techniques employed in the play also deserve special mention as the makers have skillfully harnessed the power of mobile flashlights to conjure a portrayal of day and night within the performance. Similarly, with the use of the same lighting techniques the mountains, hills, clouds, and moon are also perfectly presented in the play.
This smart innovation has shattered the boundaries of traditional stagecraft and has proved the makers of Buddha Ra Bhikhari technically intelligent as well. According to the director Subba, there are 15 performers behind this play.
Far from tragedy
Buddha Ra Bhikhari shines brightly with its joyous storyline, captivating audiences with happiness and laughter. In a theatre landscape currently dominated by tragic narratives, this play emerges as a beacon of hope and a much-needed respite from the usual melancholy.
It serves as a welcome saviour, whisking spectators away from the grips of a sombre world and into a realm of pure merriment and mirth.
Buddha Ra Bhikhari is a remarkable theatrical masterpiece that transcends age barriers, making it an ideal family play. This fascinating play entertains and imparts invaluable life lessons of wisdom and kindness. It is an opportunity for children to witness and learn from the uplifting messages conveyed on stage.
Encouraging young ones to experience this extraordinary production will sow the seeds of compassion and enlightenment, fostering their understanding of these essential virtues from an early age. After watching this one-hour-long play, you can have meaningful conversations about the values that truly matter.
Buddha Ra Bhikhari will run through June 15 at 5:30 pm every day except on Mondays at Mandala Theatre, Thapagaun, Kathmandu. There will be an additional show on Saturdays at 1:00 pm.