Of agrarian crisis 
- Padma Jayaraj, Thrissur
e-mail: padmajayaraj@gmail.com
July 10, 2008 

Theater in Kerala, once transformed a feudal society by taking up social themes. Now, for some three years, the theater has been projecting the agrarian crisis which has become a national problem. Of the many plays presented in Thrissur in connection with the on-going competition sponsored by Kerala Sangeeth Nataka Academy, AKAVOOR CHATHAN showed uniqueness. 
BHISHMA, Villuvanad, is a touring theater well known for its productions by its director, Rajesh Irulam, winner of many awards in Kerala. Hemantha Kumar, a script writer is in love with the legends of Parayipetta pantheeru kulam, a myth that has been taken up by artists of every hue. Apparently, it tells of a deep-rooted concept embedded in the social setting and cultural fabric of Kerala: its caste system and the amity between different divisions of humanity. The myth has been interpreted in umpteen ways down the line. The play, Akavoor Chathan is such an interpretation in the light of the present agrarian catastrophe that looms large for India.
The myth
The fates had decreed Vararuci, a Brahmin scholar to marry Panchami, a low-caste untouchable. The couple led a wandering life along the banks of the river Nila. Twelve children were born to them. Forced by the husband, the mother left the newborns at the place of their birth. Childless couples of different clans adopted the babies. And they grew up to produce legends.  Agnihotri, Paakkanar, Perunthachan, Naranath Pranthan etc still remain etched as symbols of greatness in the cultural horizon of Kerala. 
The plot
Akavoor Chathan, one of the castaways, grew up as the son of agricultural laborers. At the age of ten, he became one of the servants of a landlord. Made in heroic mettle, Chathan intuitively grasped farming secrets in Nature's laws. The land, full of lush green paddy fields became rich and prosperous. But soon, political jealousies, shrewd diplomacy and a gullible people, caused the downfall of the kingdom.
Into this broader outline is incorporated many strands that make the myth a metaphor. A microcosm becomes the poetic symbol of macrocosm. The drama is cast as a typical folktale of Kerala, rooted in superstitions, occultism, caste complexities, gender bias, deep seated humanity and a love of nature. The dialogue correlates present day events of India's farming policies and disasters. From the dialogue emerge parallels that highlight a blind acceptance of western ways, secrecy of scientific investigation, racial and class prejudices, consumerism, and commercial exploitation that is ecologically harmful. Globalization is at the receiving end pointing to the use of genetically modified seeds and chemical fertilizers that poison the wellspring of waters that leads to the destruction of life: human, animal, and plant, on a large scale. 
As the mythical and the modern are juxtaposed, dramatic irony deepens and the myth becomes a metaphor. Music is the most powerful component that evokes nostalgia for a lost era rooted in agricultural moorings. The tempo of music is kept on a parallel course as the play moves on. The dance, as well as the nuances of music is a judicious mixture of Kerala's folk and classical traditions. Young Sheik Elahi, the music director, is quite a promise. He succeeds in exploiting technical virtuosity to create a wonderful soundscape. 
The costume is commendable that adds to the mythical aura. And scenic props paint the landscape in its lush glory and monsoon magic. The technique of background narration is used to connect events and times and is a powerful tool in the hands of the director. Vibrant folk songs, spectacles, and forgotten anecdotes weave multiple meanings and associations, making the allusive fabric of the play.
The central character, Chathan (Mala Dileep) does not have the strong physique of a 28 year old son of the soil. The wily scholar Ramanujam (Vijay Mitra), the landlord (Harilal Manakkapadi), and his wife (Prasanna) are authentic portrayals.  The body language used is befitting to the social strata projected in the play.
The delivery of the dialogue needs a lot of attention. It is here the play lacks professionalism. And, a protracted finale robs the play of its gravity. On the whole, Akavoor Chathan, basically the story of a farmer, turns a mirror on ourselves - a scathing comment on our farms and ways of farming. The drama is a wake-up call to realities of imminent dark days that threaten life on the Earth and the agrarian crisis that needs immediate concentration.

Padma Jayaraj is a freelance writer and a regular contributor to www.narthaki.com