Flame of the Forest

Every once a while, an event happens, which blows away some of your straight jacketed preset perceptions. For example, though I was a Broadway freak, a Bharathanatyam based classic portrayal, I always thought, was not my cup of tea. “Flame of the Forest” was one such experience for me – or so I thought. My cousin Sivakumar actually saw this coming, when he called to invite me. “Don’t think your Saturday evening is out of the window, this will be a grand experience, so do come” he insisted. I am indebted to him for his foresight, for I would have been cursing myself for the rest of my life on letting such an amazing experience slip by, for, honestly, I was not too sure of what I was getting into, even when I stepped into the auditorium.

The 100 odd minutes that Saturday evening, were mesmerizing, to say the least – a brilliant display of emotions through pure art form – Music, Dance and Drama, blasting my perception away.
A Contemporary theatre version of Kalki’s legendary “Sivakamiyin Sapatham,” the “Flame of the Forest” as it is christened, is a brilliant reproduction of the immortal 1000 page classic condensed aptly within a 100 odd minutes. The classic dates back in history to the Pallava regime and as the name suggests, revolves around the life of the great dancer – Sivakami, who had devoted her life to the art of dancing.   
For me, who had not had a chance to read the legendary classic in its true Tamil form, it was an exciting initiation to the novel, but for Kalki’s aficionados like my wife, it was a dream come true to be part of the legendary novel come alive in theater form, and could easily relate to the emotions and twists of the storyline.
I liked the way the contemporary version played out. Starting from the soliloquy by the General of the Pallava army, Paranjyothi,  to the introduction of the disguised Mahendra Pallava, the legendary protagonist of art and culture, the inventor of the 7 string Veena, to his brilliant strategy of holding the evil Chalukya forces at bay, buying time to fortify the city of Kanchi, on to the winning over of Pulikesi by love (or so it seemed). The dialogue exchange between Mahendra and Pulikesi, with just a flower going back and forth was brilliant, and conveyed a thousand messages between the lines. Equally touching is the scene where in his deathbed (Pulikesi cunningly turns against his host, conquers Kanchi and injures the King fatally), Mahendra vows to destroy the Chalukya capital Vatapi (which Mamalla and Paranjyothi accomplish later down the storyline).
Then, the entire focus shifts to Sivakami. For a lowly born damsel, becoming the epitome of dance form, the transition comes with its own set of challenges and hardships, including being taken a prisoner of war, being at the center of a storm, torn between her love for the great Pallava prince Mamalla and her love for the dance form, where she is adored by the people, and even declared an asset of the great Pallava kingdom.
The portrayal of the various events playing out in her life is awesome. The flashback, of the aged Sivakami, narrating her experiences when she was young, enacted on stage by her and the younger version of her was magical. The synchronized dance sequence between them was touching.
Credit goes to the entire crew; the great selection of costumes, the brilliant music, the vocals right up to the nice lighting, the whole thing was one mellifluous symphony. As I said earlier, it would have been an opportunity of a lifetime missed, if I had chosen to stay home.

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