- Padma Jayaraj,
April 15, 2009
theatre festival organized by the Nataka Souhrudam, a theatre group, to
celebrate its decade-long work concluded in Thrissur. Communication is
the motto of Souhrudam whose mainstay is socio-political commitment. Hence
the festival was unique for theatre buffs.
noted theatre person and film director, inaugurated the 3-day festival.
He narrated the history of People's Theatre Movement in India. It had its
conception at a gathering of eminent personalities, who were not part of
theatre but visionaries, in the Indian Institute of Science in 1940. Born
in 1942, it has gone on till date with ups and downs. The movement has
sustained itself thanks to the commitment of theatre lovers despite onslaughts
from cinema and the television. Although it is nurtured only in pockets,
it has given a different version of history. Dialogue is the mission
of People's Theatre Movement.
was the haunt of theatergoers. Curated by Sadanand Menon, popular teacher
of cultural journalism, the exhibition showcased rare photographs and posters
from archival documents that are the milestones of Indian drama from Parsi
theatre to contemporary times.
different aspects of drama, documentaries connected with theatre, presentation
of short plays to encourage theatre movement, and a book exhibition that
catered to lovers of theatre were the main features of the festival. Each
evening was unique with the staging of a major play.
(the field of blood-sacrifice) penned by Karivallur Murali and directed
by Naripetta Raju, is a brilliant production staged on the inaugural day.
Presented in the open with minimalism as its signature, the play is a fantastic
presentation with all the ingredients like energetic action, songs with
dramatic function, dance that evokes martial arts and ritual performance,
spectacle, subdued lighting, and costumes giving different dimensions to
the text. The plot gives scope for contemporary relevance to a page in
the history of Karivallur, in Northern Kerala.
begins with the picture of today’s youth in front of TV. The reading
room of the village library has no reader today; closed almirahs with old
books are ghosts of the past. The silence of a library is marred by hooting
and whistling of young men who while away their time enjoying reality shows
and competing to send SMS to back their favorite singer. They are the upwardly
mobile section of the society because they have liquid cash harvested from
selling their fields to the land mafia. Here is a reality check that has
triggered an agrarian crisis in Kerala.
the play forward. Heroes of history, the local martyrs relive their chequered
lives in troubled times. We bypass freedom struggle with its dreams and
disillusionments, communist ideology seeping the downtrodden and the consequent
agrarian revolution. In the process, the play exposes social hierarchy,
the exploitation of the poor and the ruthless suppression of dissent, ongoing
phenomena in free India. Many sacrificed their lives as the village wrote
its bloody history. And the youth of today wallowing in tainted money needs
to know their past, a past smeared in blood. The play ends with the dead
and the wounded in a pile soaked in sacrificial blood. As the tragic
vision unfolds, we understand that the hapless saga of the poor farmer
is the same from the days of feudalism to our times. And Karivallur becomes
Songs in the
background set to rural and marching beats fill up the gaps and connect
each period in its political upheavals. Costumes that remind one of absurd
theatre is a tool in the hands of the director to take anti-nationalist
and anti-imperialist stances. The bare-bodied local chieftain with
a necktie is classic case of satire that gives an imperialist twist to
the story, hitting hard at globalization.
Malai' (fire and rain) written by Girish Karnad and directed by Basavalingayya
failed to click with the audience because of the language barrier. The
organizers overlooked the need of an elaborate synopsis for a play in which
dialogue is important.
(Working Title, Mumbai) scripted and directed by Ramu Ramanathan was a
wonderful performance. The solo acting of Jaimini Pathak that had the audience
riveted to their seats for 2 hours is a classic case of consummate acting.
Mimicking a dozen people and making the stage alive where action is not
needed points to the strength of play acting. Mellifluous popular songs
of the times, the mixture of Hindi and English set the tone and tenor of
an urban play in an intimate theatre. And, a monologue in effect is transformed
to a dialogue.
As the title
suggests, the play tells the life story of Mahadevbhai, the personal secretary
of Gandhiji. The drama unfolds as the great grandson of Mr. Desai goes
in search of his great grandfather, through the memories of his grandfather,
seven volumes of the diary written by Mr. Desai, distorted history lessons
of his school days, and personal letters of people close to Gandhiji. The
tortuous freedom struggle comes alive replete with cross references to
our own troubled times steeped in irony. And the story line revolves around
the relationship between Gandhiji and his personal secretary until the
latter's death on the lap of his mentor.
stands tall in the crowd, his supporters and opponents. We get thumbnail
sketches of the stalwarts of the times. Mimicking each personality invests
the play with humor, subtlety, and diversity. And we pass landmark after
landmark of this glorious period with a new awareness.
Indian has studied the period in the history classes, the play gives a
different version of it as we look back from today's context. The drama
reminds us of what we have sidelined as we marched forward. It urges to
uphold Gandhian ideals, to put the peasant in the heart of India, and to
be free in the real sense. We are reminded again and again that freedom
from the British dominance is not the real freedom, but freedom from our
own prejudices embedded in our social realities. We have to acknowledge
weaknesses that are systemic in our culture and tradition to usher in humanity.
by interactions, was a rewarding feature of the festival. What evolved
as a consensus was that the theatre is in a crisis, that the flight of
talent to other lucrative fields is a reality, that change in the mindset
of the audience shaped by the super speed of virtual reality are
factors that trigger our anxieties. How to generate the needed energy in
an aesthetic manner drawing strength from India's diverse traditions, from
influences beyond our borders and from innovative experiments is the challenge
that Indian theatre faces today. True that India does not have a national
theatre, although we have National Schools of Drama. The strength of India
lies in its diversity, so be it with its theatre.
Jayaraj is a freelance writer and a regular contributor to www.narthaki.com