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Well-received play Chanakya provides lessons in assimilation

Mahadev Desai
October 2009
Well-received play Chanakya provides lessons in assimilation

Shyam Yellamraju, Atlanta’s prodigious writer, producer and director, presented the 326 BC historical drama “Chanakya” to a sold-out Clayton County Performing Arts Center on Sept. 13.

The two-and-a-half-hour show, performed in English to an audience of 1,200, was a fundraiser for Chinmaya Mission Alpharetta, (CMA).

A career IT executive who’s passionate about theater, Yellamrajuhas has presented more than 20 plays in the United States, including “Ramayana,” “Shri Sai Darshan” and “Sri Venkateswara Mahatyam.” He has received several awards from community organizations for enriching the cultural and social landscape through his artistic talent.

“Chanakya,” which featured 92 artists playing 110 roles, evoked deep patriotic intensity and exhibited authentic early-age Indian music and culture. It was notable that no current-century Indian instruments, such as the sitar and tabla, were used for the background score. Instead, the veena, flute, dhundhubi, manjira and trumpets were recorded. The music included chanting and recitations of uplifting shlokas from the Vedas.

The artists, ranging in age from 5 to 60, thoroughly immersed themselves in their stage characters and acted very convincingly. The elaborate period costumes, including those of the Greek soldiers, Indian royalty Acharyas and students undergoing training at the Gurukul, as well as the props and varied backdrops, added to the artistic finesse and authenticity of the production.

Though there were only two Indian folk dances, presented with young village women in colorful costumes joined by the invited but invading Greek soldiers, the play was well-choreographed till the end. The minimal dark time between the scenes was effectively used by “Kaal,” the narrator of the Chanakya history. The audience enthusiastically applauded at each scene-change and gave the cast a thunderous standing ovation at the end.

“I do not have the resources to produce a commercial Broadway hit, but we got dangerously close,” Yellamraju said. “Chanakya was designed to take the community theatre to the realm of the professional Broadway-like show.”

He said the show was designed not to make money, but to benefit the community and future generations. “I wanted our kids to get a visual treat of what ‘glorified India’ meant and that we were ‘cool’ even in 326 BC,” he said. “Hence the reason the play was even delivered in English. Not one of the over 30 youth that participated in the play will ever forget the history of Chanakya. That is what I wanted to see achieved and our team did!”

The music was locally composed and authentically produced in India by the group comprising of composer Srini Kishore and team, Sujatha Rayburn, Smitha Yellamraju and Srivalli Vempatti.

Training and rehearsing with onstage artists and over 30 production artists was done by the assistant director, Krishnaveni Kesavarapu, and a team of ‘stage directors’ (Namrata Satuluru, Naveen Tyagi and Lakshmi Vedala).

“This was an outstanding team to work with,” Krishnaveni said. “Experienced artists like Swaroop Nyshadham, Udai Singh and many others added significant value to the rehearsals. I am simply amazed and thankful to all for this opportunity.”

Viren Mayani, who played the role of “Kaal,” said the play showed that “we do have immense inert talent in each one of us and it needs to be tapped” and that “collectively we can make magic, especially when it is for a just cause – like Chanakya did for India’s history.”

According to Yellamraju, “Chanakya” was the first-ever fundraiser for CMA. CMA’s methodology, stylized as a Gurukul, teaches Vedic learning to students and they too have the hierarchical Acharya embodiment. It was a perfect parallel, teaching students right from wrong – the way Chanakya taught the world.

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