Every year when Indra Jatra processions jam the streets leading to Kathmandu Darbar Square and scores of tourists and locals happen to look down narrow gallis in anticipation of yet another chariot, it is the Kumari who arrives out of nowhere to steal the spotlight. Despite all this attention on the living goddess
, there is another character central to Indra Jatra, whose legend is now all but forgotten by the city’s many inhabitants.
But the Majipa Lakhey survives in myths retold to children living in the old settlements near the Rani Ban jungle of old Kantipur. It is a story that held sway in the secluded, jackal infested fields and hillocks of yore but which is now impossible to invent in the capital of concretes. The scholar and writer Satya Mohan Joshi must have felt the same when he sat down to rewrite it as a play, and perhaps wanted to show us what life was like in those standstill days.
In Shilpee Theatre’s recent production of Majipa Lakhey, the story is elementary like all folk tales. A farmer’s daughter, named Balamaicha (‘beautiful girl’ in Newari), falls in love with a Lakhey (read son of demons, with godlike powers). Smitten by the beauty and devotion of his young beloved, the Lakhey carries her off to Lakhey-land.
Bala’s parents weep and wail and send young men from the village to rescue her and catch the upstart. Lakhey and Bala are put on trial, the verdict of which sees Lakhey-dancers participating in the Indra Jatra till this day.
For all the supposed myth around the Lakhey, who gives the play its title, it felt a bit unusual to have Balamaicha as the audience’s stand-in. Actor Pawan Jha’s Lakhey is so monstrous that any feeling of awe and wonder at the majesty of the demon evaporates quickly, and it doesn’t help that his beloved is remonstrating all the time.
Director Ghimire Yubaraj says he faced a challenge in cutting down the parade-y anthropological tendencies, to which cultural plays are prone, and he has achieved a measure of success in this regard. But there are other times when an unabated hullaballoo creeps back into the performance. As the tale of love in impossible circumstance gets sidelined, the play becomes an excuse for rustic types – your typical village drunkards, outcasts, smart-alecks, graybeards – to make a lot of noise.
There is a moment at the end when Balamaicha (and, with her, the audience) realises her lover is now public property forever. At this moment, you feel the play should have spent more time on nurturing this bittersweet love instead of elongating slapstick village-square episodes.
Director: Ghimire Yubaraj
Writer: Satya Mohan Joshi
Cast: Pawan Jha, Pabitra Khada,
Jeevan Baral, Lunibha Tuladhar,
Krishan Bhakta Maharjan
Runs till 14 June, 5.30pm, Shilpee Theatre