The character of Karna exercises a great fascination for us. The circumstances surrounding his birth, his elevation through Duryodhana’s friendship, his limitless generosity, his unfailing loyalty to his benefactor, and his tragic end — it is a poignant saga that is enhanced with each retelling. And Karna is a character every veteran actor would like to portray.

Actor Nasser with so many excellent performances to his credit takes up the challenge in the theatre with the monologue on ‘Karnan’ at the ‘Bharatam-Mahabhaaratham’ festival to be held by Natyarangam, the dance wing of the Narada Gana Sabha Trust, on August 30, 6.15 p.m., at the sabha hall.

Golden opportunity

“At first when Sujatha Vijayaraghavan of Natyarangam called me, I thought she wanted me to be the chief guest at their programme. But she said she wanted me to do the role of ‘Karna’ for the Vyasa festival. I agreed as I was eager to re-enter the world I came from. It’s a long time since I acted in a play and I also needed a change. I’ve always held that Nadagam has been neglected here and I didn’t want people to say that I let go an opportunity when it was offered to me,” says the actor who has swept audiences off their feet with his powerful/ nuanced portrayals in a variety of roles.

“Now it is always cinema and more cinema for me,” laughs Nasser. “I do not want to sound busy but I have my hands so full, travelling and acting, that it is three months since I came to Chennai!” In fact, it is while he is in Belgaum shooting for the Kannada film ‘Surya Kanthi’ that I manage to speak to the actor over the telephone. “I will be returning to Chennai only the day before the play is to be staged,” he tells me.

Nasser’s connections with the theatre go back to his schooldays in Chingelput. He has continued his links with the theatre whether it is through acting in plays, conducting workshops or introducing actors from the theatre, especially the Koothu-p-pattarai, into the cinema. Before he became almost completely immersed in the cinema, Nasser acted in the plays directed by Dr. Rudran. “I also performed in ‘Aurangazeb,’ Indira Parthasarathy’s play,” he looks back. “I had rehearsed thoroughly for ‘Macbeth’ directed by Dr. Rudran. Just ten days before it was to be staged, I received an offer for an important role in a film. Dr. Rudran was firm I should take up the offer.”

When Magic Lantern presented ‘Ponniyin Selvan’, Nasser played the role of Aditya Karikalan. “The play was a great success,” he recalls. “We wanted to tour with it but we couldn’t do so owing to various factors including financial ones. If it were staged now, the response would be great, I feel, since the theatre gets more exposure in the media than it used to in the past.”

Nasser agrees it is a coincidence that many of the characters he has portrayed so far are historical characters. “But though ‘Karnan’ is based on mythology, some contemporary issues are woven into it such as those concerning war,” he says.

The veteran actor compliments Prof. Raghuram who wrote the script for explaining the character and the ramifications to him “so lucidly and with so much depth.” The script was adapted as a performance text by Karuna Prasad who has also directed it. What were the aspects of Karna’s charcter he related to while interpreting the role?

“We all know he is a tragic hero,” he replies. “I want to justify the scope the role offers,” says Nasser who comes to the text with understanding having studied the Mahabharata quite thoroughly as a student of the Film Institute.

Why did he choose to do a monologue ? “Initially for convenience as I’m always travelling and it would be difficult to coordinate rehearsals with my fellow actors,” he says. “But now it has become a big challenge as I have to hold the attention of the audience on my own for 45 minutes through an interior monologue. I do not know whether I will be able to traverse the entire canvas (of the character). But I’m confident I will do justice to what I’m focussing on,” he says with conviction.