Using the chorus powerfully, Satyajit layered his ‘Mouna Kural’ with several issues.

It was more than a decade ago when C.P. Satyajit, son and disciple of natyacharyas Shantha and V.P. Dhananjayan, decided to change track and become a professional photographer. He in a sense represented the future of the classical art form as a young, fresh talent bursting with ideas and his exit was noticed with sadness.

Satyajit’s return to the firmament, though only as choreographer, with ‘Mouna-k-Kural,’ a Tamil dance-theatre production that he had presented 18 years ago as a college student, was big news indeed! There was a spill over at the Rukmini Arangam in Kalakshetra, Chennai, and on request, a second show was staged that evening.

So how was the come-back show? There is no one-word answer given the layers that ‘Mouna Kural’ operated on. Satyajit declared that it was a work in progress and that it was the process that mattered more than the production. Fair enough. But given the fact that we as outsiders watched the show, here’s what we got from it.

As a production, it was slickly made, combining the grammar of Bharatanatyam and some martial arts with the theatrical device -- the chorus, besides dialogue, mime and music. The hand that controlled the puppets, metaphorically, was a deft one. The dancers were wonderfully cued-in; ‘Mouna…’ was low on glamour and high on artistry.

The story had a loose weave, based on a Kuravanji-style Kuravan-Kurathi relationship. The couple have had a quarrel, and the Kuravan is looking for his wife. She returns bedecked with jewellery and when questioned, relates her experiences while palm-reading. She had predicted the future of the women to be like that of princesses Sita and Draupadi from Hindu mythology. Knowing that the former faced a trial by fire and the latter had been disrobed and humiliated in court, the women protest. And here comes a lesson in character analysis -- the kurathi explains or rather presents the events in question, and points out the princesses’ stoicism and strength of character through the trauma they underwent.

So ‘Mouna..’ could also count as a gender-sensitising production. The female protagonist, the Kurathi, for example, is a strong, independent woman, who is capable of fending for herself. The gender equality issue was emphasised in the neutrality of costumes; both the male and female dancers wore loose Patiala salwars, the latter with a blouse and a fabric bandeau on top.

For me, Satyajit’s biggest achievement was in his visualisation of the chorus. The 15-dancer group was gender-free, democratic, in the sense that there was no pecking order. The roles of the Kuravan and Kurathi switched within the group, in a pop-in pop-out manner.

Satyajit wanted ‘Mouna..’ to go beyond entertainment and trigger a thought-process in the rasikas. The chorus was the choreographer’s tool. It had multiple roles -- to act as a counterpoint to the conversation with thought-provoking questions, to dramatise and mime conversations and to move the story forward through a clever refrain using Bilahari and Chenchuruti tunes, to act as props. And in the end, the chorus took over and had the last word in the message the production carried.

The last part was really the crux of ‘Mouna..’ The Singan asks his wife, “... Is aggression the only recourse for a woman?” The Singi replies, “Yeri midhikkum mannidargalodu vazha thaeriya sindhanai vendumo?” (loosely translated as “Don’t you need evolved thinking to live with oppressors?”). “But will you treat me like Sita and Draupadi?” The Singan replies with the punch line, ‘Pithu piditha sathattra makkalin pedhamai pesadhe’ signifying that only mad and spineless people behave like this.

The chorus is unconvinced of Singan’s sincerity, and re-enacts the last part as a group divided in two, after which they dramatically walk into the audience and merge with them... How better to bring out the anonymity of the actors and the story - it can be any of us!

‘Mouna Kural’ was an adaptation of the play ‘Mouna-k-kural’ conceived by Voicing Silence group, headed by Professor S. Ramanujan and assisted by Mangai and Palani. The folk style script had some Kutrala Kuravanji dialogue, Bharatiar’s poetry and songs by Revathy Sankkaran.

Credits for ‘Mouna Kural’: script (Mangai), inspiration (V.R. Devika), music (V.S. Narasimhan), costume (Shantha, Anupama Satyajit) and lighting (Victor Paulraj, Mohan).