For the love of theatre
Ilango Kumaravel on how his heart beats for theatre
Elango Kumaravel’s role of Ravi Shastri in Abhiyum Naanum was impactful and unforgettable. But much before he became a film personality, he was a seasoned theatre personality well versed in different aspects of theatre. “Theatre is my first love,” says Kumaravel who began his career as a marketing professional. “But I soon I realised the job was not my cup of tea. My uncle Kalaiko asked me to join the School of Drama of Pondicherry University where writer Indira Parthasarathy was also a member. I was a big fan of Indira Parthasarathy and immediately joined the course,” he says.
A therukoothu performance at a theatre festival at Purisai became a turning point in Kumaravel’s life. “The energy of the performers was stunning. I was overwhelmed to see the transformation of an ordinary person in real life to a fiery king on stage. I stayed at the festival right to the end. I could not move out of the place,” he says.
For a city-bred boy who was not exposed to rural life and folk arts, the therukoothu showcased the cultural richness of the folk art tradition. “I was fascinated by the performance and met Kannappa Thambiran, the legend of this art form. We also staged a therukoothu on the episode of ‘Draupati Vasthraparanam’ under his guidance. The appreciation from the doyen of this art was the most satisfying moment in my life,” he says.
After his studies he joined Koothupattarai where he did a lot of workshops and theatre production. Meanwhile, in association with friends Pravin and Hans, he started the Magic Lantern group that focussed on children’s drama. “Pravin is trained in theatre in France and he brought a lot of his professional experience into our group,” he says.
Magic Lantern staged several dramas in Chennai schools and also some English plays. Kumaravel’s other big moment came when Swarnavel, a documentary filmmaker asked them if they could present Kalki Krishnamurthy’s Ponniyin Selvan in a theatrical form. “I was up for the challenge. Basically, I am not a writer. I just applied drama techniques to the story and the script evolved. I wanted Pravin as director and he also agreed to work on the play and that is how it shaped up,” says Kumaravel.
But it was not easy for Kumaravel as he had to compress five volumes and make it theatre-worthy. “I believed I could do it and did it at last. I retained the dialogues of the writer as I knew I could not do better than Kalki. Moreover, I knew the ardent fans of Ponniyin Selvan would not tolerate any deviation,” he chuckles.
When the script for the play was ready, Koothupattarai, Pondicherry University and professors from Thanjavur Tamil University joined hands. “I opened with Aditya Chola and ended with the Coronation ceremony of Uttama Chola,” he says. Seeing the magnitude of the play film actor Nasser wanted to join and did the role of Karikal Chola. The play was staged at the YMCA open air theatre in 1999. That was the time Nasser was making his film Maayan and wanted Kumaravel to make a film entry. “Nasser introduced Pasupathy and Jayakumar and me in that movie. He wanted me to learn filmmaking.”
Kumaravel reworked the play and reduced the time to under four hours to stage it in proscenium. Thotta Tharani did the sets. Pasupathy who is trained in marital arts, did all the action and dance choreography and also acted in Chennai. “Pasupathy is a successful film actor who likes to perform on stage. Even now he wanted to be part of this production and acted as Karikal Chola when the play was moved to proscenium,” says Kumaravel.
Kumaravel wrote the script for the movie Katradhu Kalavu. “I was introduced to Radha Mohan by his cameraman Visu. I was offered the role of the Chithappa in the movie Azhagiya Theeye.”
Kumaravel became an integral part of Prakash Raj’s team from Azhagiya Theeye, Abhiyum Naanum, Payanam to Un Samayal Arayil. “Prakash Raj is also a theatre person and he gives me enough space to operate,” he says.
Kumaravel was also part of music album Irandayirathil Oruvan with his friend and musician Paul Jacob. “It is a remix of MGR’s songs,” he says. Kumaravel handles both theatre and film with equal felicity and is not prepared to sacrifice theatre activity because of his film commitments.