If you are a theatre buff or into Hindu mythology then Girish Karnad’s play Yayati is a must read. The story is that of King Yayati who commits a sexual misdemeanour and is cursed to become old and decrepit by nightfall, unless he finds someone to accept the curse on his behalf. When his subjects turn him down, his recently married son Puru exchanges his youth for his father’s old age.
In the Hindu mythological tale, the prince is a handsome and valiant character who sacrifices his future out of paternal devotion. Here lies the twist in Karnad’s plot. There is no self sacrifice, but the acceptance of the reality of the situation. To say anything more here would be to act the spoiler. Yayati also brings to fore the playwright’s existentialist leanings. At the time of writing the play, Karnad had just won the Rhodes scholarship and was in the process of leaving for Oxford. At that time conservative families did not like their scions to travel abroad for fear of compromising their social values and also lest they failed to return. Karnad was facing the same pressures and could well understand what was going through Puru’s mind when confronted with the dilemma.
Yayati is Karnad’s first play, but it displays the maturity of a seasoned writer. The adaptation of the original plot for the drama and the elucidation of the salient features of the characters involved are perfect. The player is written in Kannada but has been translated into English by the playwright himself. One of the first performances of the play was done in Hindi by the legendary Satyadev Dubey. The title role of Yayati was essayed by none other than a very young Amrish Puri, who later won acclaim as a Bollywood baddie.