Play built on mythical demon architect

Like many people around the world, playwright-director Hemang Nandabalan Yadav, 35, closely followed the furore surrounding the troubled 2010 Commonwealth Games in India.

A year before the sporting event, the building of infrastructure, such as the swimming venue and flyovers for transport, was very far behind in schedule.

Yadav tells Life!: "So many people had such strong opinions about it, because on the one hand, there was all that talk of India being a new superpower, and then the disappointment when it couldn't live up to that image by creating all the necessary facilities."

Amid allegations of security lapses, corruption, busted budgets, poor infrastructure and living conditions, he remembered a mythical figure he had read about as a child: Maya, a legendary demon architect from Indian mythology who could have fixed these problems.

This was the starting point for his new English-language play, Maya: Demon Architect, which will be staged at the Esplanade Theatre Studio on March 21 and 22.

It is presented as part of the 25th anniversary celebrations of Indian theatre company Ravindran Drama Group, of which Yadav is co-artistic director.

He says: "More than anything, I was very conscious of my own identity as a Singaporean Indian. On the one hand, there's this sense of 'We're all Indians and therefore this concerns all of us', but at the same time, there's an obvious sense of distance because I'm not really Indian, I'm Singaporean.

"It's a national problem that doesn't involve you, but somehow you feel invested in it. I was really fascinated by the globalness of the issue."

Maya: Demon Architect is set in India in October 2009, a year before the Games. Two civil servants seek out the demon in the hope that he might be able to get them out of a construction mess.

The demon tells them how he constructed three magical cities and how these cities were eventually destroyed. The civil servants must then decide if they want Maya to build the Games venues, but risk possible doom in the process.

As a child, Yadav was a big fan of the Amar Chitra Katha (roughly translated as Immortal Comic Books), a popular series that featured illustrated retellings of Indian mythology, folklore and fables.

That was where he came across the story of Maya, whose creation of Tripura, a set of three flying cities, was eventually razed by the deity Shiva because of the wickedness of the cities' inhabitants. However, Shiva lets the architect go free because he is a devotee.

Yadav says: "To me, that was so problematic. I was thinking, any artist who has created an art form, but then is told 'We're destroying your art form, but you'll be fine, don't worry'.

"Would he really be fine? Plus, here we're talking about a city. Would you really be fine being the sole survivor of your city?

"What about all the bonds you have with everyone around you, and do you not feel guilt if you're the only survivor? Even as a child, reading that story disturbed me and it brought out so many questions that I felt were left unanswered by the story."

The lead role of Maya will be played by actor Ravee Vellu, a familiar face in the Tamil theatre scene. He is also a director, playwright and drama educator.

Six other actors, including Vasantham television star Sivakumar Palakrishnan and one of Ravindran Drama Group's directors, T. Nakulan, will be juggling multiple roles.

There are about 50 characters in total, mostly from the mythological elements of the play.

The play is also part of a rebranding for the 25-year-old theatre group, which has made a name for itself with its thought-provoking Tamil-language productions, such as an adaptation of Shakespeare's Macbeth, in 2000.

While the group will still do Tamil productions, it will also be embarking on more English-language productions.

Yadav says: "We should increase our audience demographic. Indian productions should not be just for Indians; but they should also be accessible to non-Indians. They should feel welcome to watch the play, to discover more about Indian culture and society."

Book it


Where: Esplanade Theatre Studio

When: March 21 and 22, 8pm

Admission: $22 from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to

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