Chettinad Players’ Sundarakandam was a crisp production with well-etched characters
This is a story of self-discovery. Chattinad Players’ eighth production Sundarakandam deals with one of the most important parts of an epic, but it isn’t just about the bigger picture. This is a story of another hero, one who jumps across the ocean and sets a city on fire.
The introduction goes “This is the only chapter of The Ramayana where the hero is not Rama, but Hanuman”. It looks at the doubts that plague him, how he overcomes them and eventually discovers his strength.
The setting is a forest, where Rama is asleep on a boulder. Two playful rakshasa spies narrate the story, and go on to talk about how Sugriva has forgotten his promise to Rama and is making merry in his new kingdom. They wake Rama up to this realisation and run away into the forest.
Rama, who is now enraged, sends Lakshman to Sugriva’s kingdom, asking him to keep his promise. The king, realising his error, agrees and immediately sends his troops, including Hanuman and Jambavan in different directions. Rama gives Hanuman his ring to be given to Sita when he sees her. They are asked to find Sita in a month or face death.
A month later, Sita is nowhere to be found, and Hanuman and the others lose hope. They come across Jatayu’s brother, an old eagle that has lost its wings. He tells them that Sita is in Lanka and that it is 10 yojanas away. Hanuman is the only one who can do it but is plagued by doubts about his abilities. Jambavan, at this point, helps Hanuman discover his strength and he makes the jump to Lanka, promising to ‘bind Ravana by ropes’ and bring him to Rama.
Hanuman searches for Sita, looking for a woman whose “jewels are pearls of tears standing heavy in her eyes” and finds her in Ashokavanam. He spots Ravana trying to woo her and Sita warning him about Rama’s strength. He eventually shows her the ring and asks her to climb on his back. But she refuses, “To save me is Rama’s duty alone.” Therefore, Hanuman is sent back with the message to save her from Ravana. Here, Hanuman is caught by Ravana’s son and is forced to kill him in battle. Enraged, Ravana asks his other son Indrajit to capture him and bring him to court. “He is not like any monkey I’ve ever seen,” his men warn him. They bind him and set fire to his tail. Hanuman then sets Lanka ablaze and heads back to Rama. Once there, Rama’s army prepare to build the bridge and cross the sea.
Asif Haseem as Rama makes the cut as the prince yearning for his missing wife. “How can so much wrong come from one righteous decision?” he cries. Rohit J. as Lakshman fits the bill as the angry young man who stands by his brother. Hanuman is played by two talented actors — Sabri Vas who plays Hanuman, life-size and Uchit, the smaller Hanuman. Both actors carry the role well on their shoulders. Uchit allows the audience to see Hanuman’s playful side. Shabeer as Ravana is every bit the famous king and Pavithra as Sita is fittingly sullen. Adding a bit of humour to a series epic are the rakshasa spies played by the talented Kishen and Ashoka Rathnam, who switch sides and enthrall the audiences with their wit.
Kishkinta comes to life
The sets, designed by Thota Tharrani are vivid and bring Kishkinta to life. There are tall, sturdy trees, thick foliage, hanging roots, caves, alcoves and large boulders. The details are astounding. They are a rich green while bringing out the beauty of Sugriva’s kingdom and Lanka’s vast landscapes, and a fiery red when Hanuman sets Lanka on fire.
Amudha Lakshmi’s costumes are appropriate, and bring out the uniqueness of each character. The music and lights by Paul Jacob, Anish Mohan and Lawrence give the right support to the play, and Jayakumar’s direction is laudable. The characters are strong and etched well, and the play, short and crisp.
Sundarakandam, thus, discovers the hero in Hanuman, and ends on the note that ‘strength is not the body, its real home is the mind’.