Turning the stage to a canvas of movement
The richness of its texture achieved through the use of manifold
narrative elements that do not rely crucially on the virtues and merits
of dialogic discoursing between characters made The Last Colour an
impactful opening show to the second Colombo International Theatre
Festival (CIFT) at the auditorium of the British School in Colombo. It
was a drama that revealed much of the intentions that underlie the
creator's vision for his audiences. The objectives were aesthetic as
much as they were political.
For all intents and purposes the reader must be forewarned in all
fairness that this review is of a Maharashtran play from the perspective
of a Sri Lankan who is yet to be acquainted with the cultural and
sociological foundations that form the representations brought out in
The Last Colour. And, therefore, to a Sri Lankan reader it will be the
play that would be the 'foreign' component of the discussion while to a
person from Maharashtra it would be my perspective that would surely be
the 'outsider' element.
The wordless opening
The drama opens with a scene that has no spoken element to it. There
is light, there is colour, and there is simple mundane movement. A young
girl paints a picture on stage. Her brush strokes on canvas which bring
to vision an image that depict a tiger, symbolically, being an
identifiable portion of its face centred around the eye is as 'dramatic'
as it gets at the inception.
A scene from The Last
There is black and white and the golden yellow that course lines on
the white canvas. And there is a red jab of paint the brush thrusts to
the top of the image that drips its course downward. The climax at
which, the first scene ends. And not a word spoken.
What I found compelling in the scene that follows is the outburst of
sound and vigorous movement that severely contrasted the pace of the
It showed what I took to be a ritual at a tribal area in India.
Presumably in Maharashtra since the production is from Pune, India. I
shall therefore presume that the clearly tribal looking motifs of dress
worn by the players posited the characters to be 'Adivasi' or aboriginal
The 'Adivasi' dialogue
Here in Sri Lanka a person who is Sinhala conversant does not need an
interpreter or a translator to communicate verbally with members of the
'Veddha' community our 'Adivasi' who in their own dialect are called
'Vannila aththo'. What I found rather curious is how the 'visitor' to
the tribal scene who was apparently greeted by the Adhivasi in their
traditional dance according to what his guide cum interpreter says, is
not able to communicate with the tribal people without an interpreter.
If the visitor was meant to be a European or a non national then an
interpreter is expected on the scene of course.
But what I initially read of it was that it was an Indian who was
visiting the tribal reservation. An Indian who in all his modern
cosmopolitan sophistry is very much 'non local' to the area. But then,
be it a foreigner or an Indian from out of State the vastnesses and
diversities of India make it arguably impossible for every national of
India to be by virtue of Indian nationality, 'localised' to every Indian
setting. And thus to me there was a lingual and cultural gap readable
between the two camps of people shown in that scene.
The significance of that 'threading' in the performance may be
contextualised in respect of the practical realities that may be
prevalent in lingual communication in India.
An expressionistic change
A striking shift in the narrative modalities takes place when the
play from there afterwards becomes a performance coursed on the
coalescing of a voiceover played over the sound system and bodily
movement based narratives of figurative and depictive communication
unfolding on stage to the rhythms of changing sound and colour. Music
and light thus become a subtext running with varying altitudes as the
master narrator's words of varying emotional tones drive the action on
The movement seemed to be ballet like, with miming. The players
weren't actors in the conventional sense of theatre. They were humans
becoming elements of nature and images of the divine. 'Figurative
expression(s) through expressionistic movement' is how I can best
describe the organic essence of the aesthetic in the technique I
observed, unfolding on stage.
There didn't seem a single player fixed to a persona except the
player who acted the role of the disembodied tiger dressed in white.
And understanding that this white garbed persona is symbolic of the
spirit or consciousness of the tiger to me was not immediate. Observing
his isolation from the rest of the performers on stage who showed a
distinct cohesion of being consciously related to each other, their
movements responding and communicating overtly through their physical
movements, and the fact that this white clad actor didn't change motifs
like the others on stage and also had a noticeable difference in his
pace and pulse as a character, made him be the physical manifestation of
the words that were being delivered to the audience in the voiceover.
It was to me very admittedly an introspect revelation resulting
through my conscious reading of the performance. Plays in the nature of
The Last Colour are after all rarely seen in the more commercially
driven English theatre circuit of Colombo.Understandably a theatre
production involves far more pressing concerns of logistics when
touring. A heavy ensemble of players may not be a very helpful factor.
The manner in which the performers were 'utilised' was therefore very
pragmatic. Apart from the actor playing the disembodied tiger none were
welded to one particular character or persona. The humans on stage were
personae as much as being props. Props that pulsated with a vibe of
liveliness, being fluid in their form and movement. Shifting in their
dimensionalities, impactful in becoming dancing shadows as much as
strutting around as visible people.
The stage wasn't heavily laden with elaborate props but achieving the
effectiveness of the symbolic on stage worked on through attractive
lighting elements as well. The Last Colour appeared to me a work of
theatre that explored the possibility of devising narrative effect
through the expressionistic non verbal elements of theatre. The story as
a work of theatre can be appreciated as one that brings in many diverse
elements of dance and expressionistic movement that coalesce to deliver
the message. A story where the narrative elements also embellish the
work as an aesthetic thrust that weaves a rich texture.
The deeper politics
Moving from commentary of the aesthetic bases of the play to the
politics painted to the viewers by The Last Colour, I would like to
begin by focusing on what significances can be read out of the central
image tied to the issues portrayed.
The tiger is a symbol of India in no small way. The royal Bengal
tiger is perhaps the symbol of the untamed might and ferocity in India's
jungles resisting human advancement, while the Indian elephant is
perhaps more a symbol of how Nature's might is harnessed to serve India.
And when read in a Sri Lankan cultural perspective of the symbolic
significance of the tiger may be viewed in juxtaposition to the cultural
symbolism of the lion, a symbolism which is integral to Sri Lanka's
identity. The significance of the word 'tiger' gets rendered more
uniquely in Sri Lankan parlance due to the fact that we are quite
certainly the only land in the world that had two legged tigers!
The lion is the undisputed lord of the jungle, king of the beasts.
The depictions of the lion as the ruler of the animal kingdom involve
attributes of nobleness and regal bearing. The tiger on the other hand
has been accorded a position depicting lesser appreciable qualities.
While its awesome strength and ferocity are not negated, it has been
given, especially through 'white western' eyes, an image of 'evilness'
as opposed to the lion.
The tiger, in thus being read, one may propound, is the challenger,
the uncrowned king through the right of his own might, against the lion.
And somehow, interestingly, the tiger has also been attributed a more
notable quality of mysticism and exoticness to its image of cultural
connotations. The illegal trade in tiger body parts is partly driven by
the superstitions woven around the tiger as a consumable product of
nature. The attractive attributes, whatever they may be, accorded to the
tiger by eastern cultures, has not served to the benefit of the tiger
populations of the world.
The sacred tiger
The tiger in India is revered. The tiger is the mount, or 'vehicle',
of Goddess Kali. The performance touches on this aspect with the
narrator going into the 'irony' of how the marauder called 'man'
appropriates the tiger to be an image of sanctity and enshrines in
places of worship. A comment on the duality, the 'hypocrisy' of man, one
may say, while it can also be a symbolic show of how the construction
and renderings of religious iconography can become political, which of
course is common to the narrative of all human civilisation and not
merely to the Indian context.
The manner in which the players welded their bodies and formed a
living depiction of the image of goddess Kali seated on her mount with
the image of one person lying belly up at her feet to depict Shiva who
throws himself under her feet, was a moment where a powerful tableau
came to life.
The significance of the religious connotations turned complete, as
the light of the yellow, sacred to Hindus and indicative of the tiger's
own colour, claimed the stage in the form of a backlight, embossing the
human element as images between shadows and persons. A duality in
symbolism as well, no doubt. A depiction of the 'in between'. The
uncertainty, the unclearness within man, on the matter of what the
creature called the tiger means to them.
Dissecting the Adivasi
Part of the politics that were notably communicated through the play
takes on an ethnographic context as well. This comes out in the second
scene were the visitor meets the Adivasi. The Adivasi harmony with
nature and the order of nature is what seems to be laudable in the
context of the message of the play one may say, at surface level. Or is
it? Because the Adivasi within the performance, aren't really depicted
as what would be attractive to emulate.
If the line of critical introspection the play intends to stir in the
viewer, is to ennoble the Adivasi, the performance, as a text, would or
at least should, contain clearly the signs that make the Adhivasi's
perception as what is more appealing than the ways of the consumerist
Yes, in certain ways communicating your message politically, in
theatre, to your live audience is about 'marketing on stage' your
'argument' through the use of whatever means for 'packaging' that is at
your disposal. Though I don't speak a word of what they would say before
the translator to the visitor would interpret to English, I knew some of
what the Adivasi said was amusing to the modern man of today since the
Indian viewers sitting in front of me who did certainly understand the
vernacular in that scene, responded with laughs that showed they found
the Adhivasi explanations or logic to be a joke.
The oral interpretation by the tour guide then gave insight. They say
the tiger is their saviour and that they wouldn't grudge the tiger for
even killing their parents because it is his territory they are
trespassing on by creating habitations. The Adivasi despite their nature
friendly-'eco-logic' are portrayed somewhat as simpletons.
The Adivasi were played notably well by the actors. As a whole I feel
it is warranted to say the merits of the artists on stage as performers
in The Last Colour lie mostly in relation to their physical motion and
rhythmic bodily movement more than dialoguers who bring to life
characters whose personalities are created with emphasis on the spoken
As per the scene which was built on the verbal element -the Adivasi
scene, that is the odd one out from the overall motif of the play's
principal narrative modality. In this sense I felt all the players in
the Adhivasi scene seemed more to be depicters of a 'dialogic scene'
than players who were living out their characters. Compared to the
broader scheme of the production that scene did lack the strength of
Whose politics is it?
The Last Colour speaks of a picture of human concern through the
tragedy that is being felled on the depleting tiger populations in
India. It is 'ecological concerns' that form the basis of the critique
of the politics of man in The Last Colour. But does the play deal with
the politics that affect the day to day lives of the Indians of today?
Although I have not yet been to Maharashtra, from the little I have
seen of India I can state with certainness that the issues brought out
through this play do not relate to the issues that pulse in the veins of
the 'rickshaw wallas' and 'chai wallas' and their class, who form the
greater body of the India's people. But The Last Colour cannot be
dismissed by any means as dealing with the superficial and what is
'fashionable' to make issues about. The cause it cries out is real, and
it is in the interest of humans nevertheless that these issues are
theatrically discoursed to spur self reflection within humans.
Was The Last Colour meant to be a human effort to render an apology
to the sacred creature called the tiger? Was it meant to give a voice to
the creature that has no voice to speak against the human, although its
perceptive silent eyes see all of man's misdeeds? These are questions
which any critical viewer will no doubt have in mind. To address this
point I feel the principal element of the play that has to be
scrutinised is the voiceover which is literally meant to be the voice of
Skinning the tiger's pride
In my opinion the voiceover didn't impress on the audience the
quality of fearlessness of a creature as powerful and awe inspiring as
the tiger. The tone and emotions in the voice that came over the sound
system in my opinion skinned the tiger of its regal being. Will the
actual tiger though hunted to the last plead against the onslaught like
a lamb? That is humanity becoming the voice of the tiger. Assuming the
role of being the agent, the spokesman; which, again is characteristic
of being human. To paint the world through our own eyes to state as what
is '(f)actual'. Would it do justice to the tiger? To be encased in our
own voice of varying human states of emotionality? This I leave as an
open question to which there may not be one single answer.
Reading the painting
What was the opening scene about? Surely it is one of the symbolic
appendages that the rest of the story could survive without. Was it a
superfluity? That could be the more convenient way to assign its worth.
As I grasped it, the painting, is a symbolic show of how man is the
'creator' of the tiger -the animal that is marketable, that is 'valued'
for many reasons. That value is what creates the commoditisation of the
tiger, an animal that is a creation of nature trapped into human
The painting shows how the tiger is depicted as a 'creation' of human
initiative. And then the dash of red jabbed on the canvas that flows
down shows how the fate of the tiger too is in the hands of the humans.
Just like as simply as pulling the trigger of a gun aimed at a tiger the
artist too can just jab a dash of drippy red paint on the canvas
symbolise the death pronouncement being made on one of nature's most
What do colours bespeak?
What is in fact the 'last colour'? Is it the beautiful yellowish
golden colour which gains its significance when contextualised besides
streaks of black, or, is it red? Red; the colour of blood which is being
drained out from the tiger? Red which signifies death to the
hunted?Generally speaking, what is a painting? A human expression that
becomes a tangible manifestation of an impression within the mind of the
'expressionist' or the 'artist'. As much as it may seek to imitate or
reflect the world, art is not life per se. It is in that sense abstract
of what is communicates and impresses on the beholder.
As much as it could be lauded for its sincere attempt to empathise
with the endangered lord of the Indian jungles -the tiger, and thereby
explore its voice in the face of all the horror that is being done to
it-the play is in its sum totality what the painting symbolises-an
abstract of the tiger. It is art. A work of art by virtue of it being
art, means a distancing from reality. Can The Last Colour speak of the
reality of the tiger tomorrow? That again in all fairness to all
concerned is a question that must be left open ended.
Applause of appreciation
Shrikant Bhide holds the credits as the playwright, director and
choreographer of the play who also had done the set designs, lighting
and voiceover. The credits of the performance are as flows - Production
manager-Prasad Gudhate, Additional voiceover-Pradyumma Chaware, music
tracks arranged by-Gourav Konnur. Cast - Shrinivas Joshi, Monali Lonkar,
Sayali Yadav, Nikita Patharkar, Rajas Bapat, Gourav Konnur, Vinod
Chavan, Yogesh Netalkar and Prasad Gudhate.I came to learn from a
reliable source connected to the CIFT that this troupe who performed The
Last Colour being composed of youngsters had been faced with some
sizeable challenges to meet the fiscal requirements to bring their
production from Pune to Colombo. And seeing as how they prevailed to put
on a worthy show here in Sri Lanka, notwithstanding the toll taken on
their coffers, and realised a goal of their artistic passions, they must
be applauded all the more, extra to the performance they delivered, for
their true spirit of devotion to theatre.