The 2000-year old Sanskrit farce Bhagavadajjukam, on which Jagriti Theatre’s The Yogi And The Dancer is based, is probably the oldest implementer of the Body Swap device (or, as they’d say in Sanskrit, Parakaya Pravesha). The Body Swap has been seen since then in various creative works – novels, movies, manga and more. Films like Freaky Friday or Dating The Enemy use the device for comic effect, not without some learning for the characters involved. Others like Jhuk Gaya Aasman or Down To Earth use it to take the tale through bizarre twists.
When the switcheroo is between a Yogi and a Dancer, the scripting possibilities are rich. Would there be a clash of moral standpoints, a gaining of new perspective? A lesson, perhaps, that the Dancer can live for greater purpose than pining gigglingly for her beloved, that the Yogi can do well to sometimes prioritize medication over meditation?
But The Yogi and The Dancer isn’t interested in such expositions. It is quite content to stick to the physical comedy that ensues, which it handles well. The play’s script is rather bland, though, and so is the dialogue. Most of the gags are exaggerated and often predictable, as when Shandilya mimes the rasas while the Yogi counts them off. These may well be limitations of the original text, or they may be deliberate simplifications – the play is designed for a young audience, after all – but they mean fewer laughs for you if you’ve gone to the play unaccompanied by children. The play has been translated from Sanskrit to Konkani, and from Konkani to English. The natural loss in translation, plus the cleaning up of innuendo, have probably scrubbed off the play’s sparkle. A case in point is the title itself – something like The Hermit and The Harlot would be a closer/catchier match to the Sanskrit original, but that wouldn’t do for a kid-friendly play.
You will find other things to appreciate nevertheless, if not the humour: a multi-skilled cast that can act, dance AND sing; a sequence chanelling a peacock to perfection; the punctuation of comic moments with well-timed tinkles of a bell. The play comes truly alive when the Yamadoota / snake-doctor (another instance of identity switch happening there) takes centre stage. The repartee with the audience on snakebite cure was very well done.
The stage layout and use of space seemed geared for a smaller performing area than what Ranga Shankara offers. During large sections of the play, the male and female pairs were huddled at two end of the stage, leaving the centre barren. The symmetry of their positions was also off. A slight shift towards the center of the stage, especially for Vasanthasena and her friend, might have been more effective.
The Yogi and The Dancer is essentially a very simple play, and it will serve you with gentle amusement. Just don’t go expecting too much.