‘It’s exciting to be the king’

Hrusikesh Bhoi is a driver at Bargarh district headquarters hospital. But his role as Kansa during the annual Dhanu Yatra has made him an extraordinary personality. Ashok Pradhan spoke to 40-year-old Bhoi about the make-belief virtual kingdom he will rule from December 30.

Isn’t it boring donning the same role year after year?

I am acting as Kansa for the past three years after my selection through an open interview. But it’s not the same role every year. Though the character of Kansa is imported from mythology, he is a contemporary man. The character of Kansa and his dialogues are based upon current issues of the town that the people can easily correlate with. Moreover, I become a king. That’s very exciting.

How is the character contemporary?

The format of the yatra is such that Kansa is a character through which people speak. Their problems are highlighted. For example, this year when I will check among children to find my enemy (Krishna), I will order people to take care of the “other” newborns properly, telling them that the my government is giving postpartum treatment free of cost under Janani Sisu Surakshya Karyakram, launched recently. Obviously, the style of saying this will be dictatorial but the message will be social. Similarly, Anna Hazare-led movement has created a public opinion in support of a strong Lok Pal Bill. Kansa will ask his ministers to create a Lok Pal in Mathura for zero tolerance towards corruption. These are just a few examples. You have to watch the yatra to find out more.

But Kansa is an anti-hero?

Behind the arrogance, there is a human face. He is essentially a good man and an excellent ruler. For example, the character imposes fines on violators of rules to sensitize people. The mythology part is more in the settings, make-up of artists and the broader theme so that people can understand things easily.

Where does the fine money go?

Actually if the king imposes a fine of Rs 20,000, the subject may just give Rs 20. So there is no extortion, if I can use that word. All this is deposited with the organizing committee. Every year, the committee displays the balance sheet and expenditure statement before the public.

Don’t you rehearse with a written script of Mahabharat?

There is no written script. The theme of 11-day yatra is from the Lord’s birth to the demon’s death. But as I said there is flexibility on what the characters of the open air theatre speak. We do rehearse. The rehearsal will start from December 25 this year. But that is limited to the broader outlines and sequence of the main theme. The actors speak spontaneously. It has been like that since 1948 when the yatra started. It is believed that the Dhanu Yatra started in Bargarh to celebrate the festive mood after India got independence. Symbolically, Kansa’s death is the end of Britisth rule.

Do you also act in other drama or stage shows?

The organizers do not allow Kansa of Dhanu Yatra in Bargarh to act as Kansa elsewhere. It is my dream role that I am enacting. I have grown up as a child watching Dhanu Yatra and its Kansa. But before this, I have acted in numerous plays and dramas, mostly as mythological kings.

Was your family supportive in your acting pursuit?

I am from a village called Chicholi near Ambabhana. My father Bhrushab and uncle Krushna were part of the village drama team. My wife also acted in her school drama. So such skills are appreciated in the family. I did not study much. I am just a matriculate. Since I am posted in Bargarh hospital, the once-in-a-year acting for a few days doesn’t affect my work. My son Jatin, now in Class IV, is an active member of his school drama team.

Do they pay you for the role?

All the actors in Bargarh Dhanu Yatra are paid. I was paid around Rs 10,000 last year. But for all the actors, the payment part is secondary. Many of them even prefer not to take the money. It is a great social recognition. Even when I am a driver, everybody in the hospital treat me with extra politeness because of my acting. The yatra has carved out a niche for itself worldwide because of its unique open air moving stage. Playing the role of Kansa is a privilege.

Have you become arrogant like Kansa?

In fact I have turned extra polite after donning Kansa’s role. That is just a role limited to the yatra days. I discharge my duty with all sincerity. I just carry this long hair and side burns round the year because that would help the make-up man give me a perfect look.

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