Outcaste Eternal  
- Mithran Devanesen, Chennai 

December 3, 2008 
Vasanthi Sankaranarayanan has been an ardent supporter of the Performing and Plastic Arts. A strong and strident voice in the Chennai cultural scene who has often spoken out against the mixing of dance and theatre, so when she teamed up with Nirmala Seshadri to co-direct 'Outcaste Eternal' - billed as a dance theater production based on 'Brushtu,' the Malayalam novel by Matampu Kunhukuttan, under the banner of The Madras Players, I went with high expectations. Unfortunately I came away totally let down by a performance that was mediocre, lacking in direction, and a sense of theatre. An exercise that seemed self indulgent. 

It started off well and then rapidly disintegrated into an evening like a person with a bad stutter - what seemed like a hundred blackouts at the end of every 3 minute short scene made the 1 hour and 49 minute performance, drag on and on. 

A minimalist myself, I loved the use of a bare stage, but a bare stage calls for the exploration of the space at different heights and levels - a discovery of energy chakras which never happened. An overdependence on downstage stage left and unbalanced positioning of actors and dancers did not take into account the sightlines of the Museum Theatre. 

A dance drama or trance theatre or transformation theatre on an empty stage calls for clever lighting which was sadly lacking. The sound track by the Late L Vaidyanathan (whose music I prefer to his brother) was worthy of a Tamil film. No attempt was made to give this very geographical and culture specific story an identity. Just because you dress up in veshti and mundu veshti cannot pass for a historical and path breaking moment in Kerala history.  

To see some of The Madras Players stalwarts trying to pass off as a Namboodiri community, with accents that ranged from 'The Kumars at No.42' to pucca English was unbelievable - and even P C Ramakrishna who is one of the finest actors I have had the privilege to work with, seemed strained. 

I could not understand why the choreography did not draw on the rich cultural heritage of Kerala. Would it not have been better if Nirmala used Kudiyattam and Kathakali in her choreography? The Kaikottikali dance was as if the ladies of the Malayalee Club suddenly decided to get up and dance. Spontaneity is one thing but to be stilted and contrived is another.  

All this is not to say that the evening was not without its moments – the rape scene at the end of which Nirmala ended with her legs spread apart as though giving birth to her new vengeful persona was bold and innovative, the scenes of seduction were well done; Krishnakshi Sharma as the Nair woman falling in love with a Namboodiri was excellent. Little Paptikutty played by Anita was charming but was totally destroyed when she lifted her skirt mid-calf to reveal a pair of ankle length spandex tights destroyed the innocence!! 

It was this lack of attention to detail, basic theatre craft and production values that ruined the evening. 

I have always wanted to direct Nirmala who displayed the making of a fine actress in playing both the protagonist and the matriarch, but again the lack of focus and an understanding of the basic principles of theatre destroyed what could have been a powerful performance. 

Personally I feel that if this was made into a one woman show or an all women show, trimmed down to an hour or so, under the hand of an experienced director like Yamuna (who did a wonderful reading of the book some years ago at The British Council), Outcaste Eternal could rise above the ordinary.  

Mithran Devanesen is a highly reputed theatre director. For over three decades, he has been delighting theatre buffs with his exquisite sets and light designs. In 1986, Mithran directed a Pulitzer prize-winning play called Shadow Box, which gave theatre acting in Chennai a new style. His famous productions include Dog's Hamlet, Brahma's Hair, Arturo Ui, Midsummer Night's Dream, Seven Steps Around the Fire, Dance Like a Man, and This English. He has been thrice awarded the Charles Wallace India Trust Scholarship. Mithran has worked in films - as an actor in a French production ‘Blue Mountains,’ as a casting director and as an actor in an Italian film 'Gills.'  

(Responses to the above review can be sent to narthakionline@gmail.com)