Director Kamal’s Nadan, with Jayaram taking centre stage, traces the history of popular theatre in Kerala.

It is just past noon and the sun is blazing on the sprawling beach in Kollam. The turquoise sea looks all the more sparkling. Fans tumble against each other to get a glance of actor Jayaram and filmmaker Kamal as they get ready to can a song sequence for Nadan, a film that traces the rise and fall of professional theatre in Kerala. Coming as it does after Kamal’s power-packed Celluloid, his previous film, expectations soar, especially since Nadan deals with a theme so close to Kerala’s socio-political fabric.

Jayaram plays ‘Sargavedi’ Devadas, a drama troupe owner whose very life breath is the theatre. The song being shot has an ageing Devadas, his daughter, and members of his troupe frolicking on the beach. ‘Mooli varunna…,’ a song penned by Madhu Vasudevan, is being played in the background as Jayaram and the others hold hands and chase the waves, laughing merrily. Mukundan, Kalinga Sasi, Chembil Asokan, Malavika, and Kannan are with Jayaram for the shot. The movie has a very large cast, all drawn from theatre, except the protagonists, enacted by Jayaram and Remya Nambeeshan.

Nadan is a project close to my heart,” says Kamal as the team breaks for lunch after a tedious half-day. “I was active in amateur drama during my student days and it was then that I developed a liking for cinema.” Nadan is Kamal’s 14th film with Jayaram, who himself has had many a career-high with the director.

Jayaram looks the part with greying hair, a crumpled shirt, and thick-rimmed glasses. He is back on the sets just days after the demise of his mother. “I had to come back. There are many rituals I am supposed to perform, but that will take many more days. It means jeopardising the entire shooting schedule and I was particular that this film should not suffer. Even my mother would have wanted me to come back,” he says, adding: “I grew up enjoying popular drama on festival grounds, so I can connect to my character well.”

Jayaram says he has always loved working with Kamal and he instantly agreed to do the film when the director told him about the subject. “I had just been back from a function where old theatre personalities were being honoured. Some of them were so weathered down by age and poverty that they had to be carried to the stage. I was reminded of a time when lead drama actors were welcomed with deafening applause wherever they alighted from the van transporting the actors,” he reminisces.

Kamal says that he did not just want to tell the story of a drama troupe. Instead, the team wanted to cruise through the history of three generations of professional drama. “So we touch upon the times of ballets; the glorious years of KPAC, and the umpteen troupes that entertained and ignited social revolution for the common man,” he adds. Kollam was a conscious choice as the location since the district has seen the heyday of professional theatre and is still vibrant with those memories.

Script writer S. Suresh Babu is upbeat about Nadan. “Although the thread of the story is not developed with any particular person in mind, I personally know that many of our old stalwarts went through personal tragedies as does our protagonist. But the movie ends on a positive note and hopes for a revival of the drama scene in Kerala. ”

Nadan courses across decades and demands a realistic approach while not compromising its cinematic quality, and so the film has seasoned technicians behind the scenes. “It is a tricky interweaving of realistic make-up and theatre make-up,” says make-up artiste Pattanam Rasheed. “Most of the characters age along the story line and some of them also appear on drama stages.” Rasheed is happy that he gets to do Nadan along with another ambitious project in Tamil – Kaaviya Thalaivan, which deals with the theatre tradition of Tamil Nadu.

“Theatre is an independent narrative medium. Cinema has a different language and they intermingle in this movie. Approaching Nadan cinematically is my challenge as a cinematographer,” says cameraman Madhu Neelakandan. The cast of Nadan has several theatre personalities, including legends like KPAC Lalitha.

Theatre activist and actor Sajitha Madathil says she is really excited to be a part of it. “Here, I play the troupe owner’s wife and represent a generation where a woman gives more attention to building up her family than a career in theatre,” she says.

The movie has four songs written by Prabha Varma and Madhu Vasudevan, set to music by Ouseppachan. Nadan is being produced by Anilkumar Ambalakkara under the banner of Ambalakkara Global Films and is expected to release for Christmas. Stills are by Jayaprakash Payyannur.