In “Madras to Chennai” the focus was on a family rather than on the city.
Shraddha’s latest offering was a play that by its title denoted the changing countenance and form of a city we live in.
“Madras to Chennai,” written and directed by ‘Bombay’ Chanakya, was presented at the Narada Gana Sabha auditorium, Chennai, for four days from May 27.
In this production, the sets, costume and music stood out and the technical aspects were very good too. The play sought to weave the fortunes and predicaments of four generations of a family with the changing contours - cultural, economic and political - of a metropolis. “Madras to Chennai,” which was dedicated to veteran director K. Balachander, began promisingly.
One by one the members of a family enter the frame for a group photograph and the viewers get an introduction to each one of them beginning from the matriarch Kalyani (Shylaja Chetlur). Her husband Srinivasan ( Kathadi Ramamurthy) and their two grown up sons Padmanabhan (SBI Murali) and Mohan Ram (Dhanush), wife Sindhu and children, daughter Neeraja (Kalyani Natarajan), along with Srinivasan’s wheelchair bound brother Raghuraman (Gireesh) complete the family snapshot.
The scenes that make up the album of their lives follow, sometimes interestingly, at other times mundanely and yet others quite tiresomely. The 60th anniversary of their home brings the entire family together but tragedy strikes as Kalyani passes away suddenly. Her husband then recounts the turning points of their life to his grandchildren.
Despite Shraddha’s avowed aim to lure youngsters to watch mainstream theatre, the play seemed to be aimed at the above fifties with its heavy doses of nostalgia and pride, not so much about a city but a particular community. The synchronised scene of a twin marriage seemed explicitly introduced to reinforce the feeling of belonging, and fondness for wedding rituals, which is part of the Indian psyche. And not because the plot specifically or even remotely needed this embellishing.
The title appeared to be a peg to hang the usual family drama so beloved of mainstream playwrights, with references now and then to the political scene and a few other changes in the city. These were comments made by the actors or read out from newspapers and were not deeply integrated into the body of the work or the lives of the protagonists. The photographer Raghuraman, who becomes a vegetable owing to violence during the anti-Hindi agitation, was an exception.
One saw much of the changing face of a family but it was nothing extraordinary. The positive stroke here was the woman coming into her own. She was depicted as heading the household with grace taking intelligent decisions and being given her due by her liberated husband. While Kathadi Ramamurthy did a good job as the husband, Shylaja was brilliant in the role of the wise wife, sister-in-law and mother. The scene where she is felled suddenly was very well executed, the gestures, words and the fall excellently replicated in the replay at the end. She literally lit up the stage with her presence and delivered the lines with perfect intonation. Her daughter (Mridula) who played the younger Kalyani put in a charming performance while the sons and attractive daughter and daughter-in-law lent creditable support as did Swami Ganesan as the young Srinivasan.
While all the grandchildren led by Deepti Ravi scored, the little one (Ritvika), who came out with words such as “source” and “expelled,” was as cute as a button. The stock figure of the neighbour Vadivelu was played by Bombay Kumar. Given more space than needed, he got a bit annoying.
Then there was also the quite unnecessary character of the uncle of Srinivasan, who suddenly rebels and then returns home years later led in by a policewoman. Prema Sadasivam made an avoidable entrance in an ill-fitting uniform - one could only gape at the reference to Kiran Bedi. Sivaji Chuturvedi put in his mandatory brief appearance as a CBI officer while Gireesh proved his mettle in the wheelchair.
Both background music (Shivashankar) and lights (“Artistic” Ravi) scored. But the selection of songs was predictable. The sets (Vijayakumar of Usha Stage) of the house with the pillars, old pictures and the swing that was lowered at the appropriate moment gave the period feel but a glitch was the cradle lowered too early. Churchill’s words were employed to critique the corruption but one expected more from a playwright like Chanakya – to come up with his own take on the innards of a city and the country’s polity. It was always the skin, never the flesh of the city that came for scrutiny and references were mainly to the political scene. And there was an overdose of the flashback mode.
In concentrating on the usual family drama albeit presented attractively, Chanakya let go a golden opportunity to harness his directorial reins to a new and exciting theme. The dialogue was well fashioned, but “Madras to Chennai” was merely old wine in a well crafted new bottle.
Keywords: Tamil theatre