Kartik Fine Arts' festival presented 12 plays, of which only two or three passed muster.
This year, Kartik Fine Arts' summer drama festival had 12 plays. A festival, needless to say, means celebration. This writer was unable to see the inaugural play, but saw the others, and couldn't help wondering what exactly was being celebrated. With a few exceptions, the plays were characterised by one or more of the following: verbal incontinence, pathetic stabs at humour, irrelevance and pseudo intellectualism.
R. Muthusubramanian's ‘Karma Yogi,' went overboard with the delivery of hackneyed messages to the audience. The playwright had passed away a few days ahead of the event and M.B. Moorthy's monologues might have been meant as a tribute to his memory, but they made the play more didactic than appealing.
Which came first – the title or the story, one wondered watching Kalpakkam Seshadri's ‘Amma, Please Enakkaaga.' The play was ridden with factual errors and banal humour. And how much longer does one have to put up with the idea that an Indian in a blonde wig, speaking bad Tamil, can pass off as a Westerner? S.S. Vasan and Rajasekhar as nurse Rosy were absolute embarrassments.
Srirangam Rangamani's ‘Vaazhkai Vichitramaanadhu,' had a neat, inspiring story and convincing dialogue. These days the cost of a wedding feast is astronomical. But while the caterer gets all the praise for the food served, what of the cooks who toil in the kitchen? The play took a peep into their lives. The play reminded one of Arthur Hugh Clough's words, “If hopes were dupes, fears may be liars too.” The message was subtle and didn't come as a slap on the face.
Gratefully there was no attempt at contrived comedy. What humour there was, seemed natural and very much a part of the story.
The play also stood out for the uniformly good acting of the entire cast, although Karpagam's voice was feeble and therefore the audience missed some lines.
Kalavahini's ‘Anbudan' (story, dialogue, direction - S.L. Naanu) came out with the warning that even parental love must be circumscribed by some self-interest. Good acting and a good script were the strengths of this play, although punning on the name ‘Nambi' was unnecessary.
The hallmark of good humour is that one recalls instances long after a play is over. Chennai Drama House's ‘Kurukku Theruvil Traffic Jam,' was nothing but a collection of silly jokes spanning over two hours.
Sowmya Theatres' ‘Mazhaiudirkaalam' was a story of revenge told partly through flashback. These scenes could have been shortened. The scene where the door of the fridge is opened so that the blind man does not have an advantage in the darkness, must have been inspired by the film, ‘Wait Until Dark.'
In ‘Achu Asal', which told the story of two lookalikes, playwright Augusto tied himself up in knots. Just as one thought the proceedings were dragging on, the hero delivered his message, which was that film directors had a moral obligation to present good values to the younger generation through their films! What did the message have to do with the play? It was futile to look for a logical end in a play totally devoid of logic.
Goodwill Stage Creations' ‘Maapillai Amaivadhellaam' had one merit - it was short. Here again logic went for a toss. Which parent will get his daughter married to a man of whom he knows nothing? King Thrushbeard in a fairy tale is understandable, but not in a play offered to an adult audience and that too as part of a contest.
Gurukulam's ‘Enna Porutham' was fast-paced in the first half, but lost momentum in the second, mainly because of a message overload. That spousal quarrels are best left alone and interference will only fan the flames was sound advice indeed. That the loss of the joint family has deprived the younger generation of the wisdom of elders is true to a great extent. It would have been nice if the marriage counsellor had stopped here. Instead, he spoke about the properties of the peepul tree, and also threw in stories from the Mahabharata thus presenting an overpainted canvas!
Mayurapriya's ‘Deivathin Kural' (story, dialogue and direction by P. Muthukumaran) didn't have much of a story. It made one important point, namely, that service to others is more important than ritualistic observances. On the downside, it tried to tackle too many issues. It spoke of the greatness of Namasankirtanam, the greatness of Paramacharya even while looking at social reforms. In the process it projected cast discrimination as it was prevalent in the 1950s. Sure, the country has not shaken off the vice but definitely has come a long way from pre-Independence days. The Narikorava community could have been portrayed with more finesse. Karur Rangarajan as Vembu Bhagavatar did a good job. But even better was the performance of Nawab Govindarajan, although he was on the stage for a short time.
Writing situational comedy is not easy. There is the danger of repetition, especially when the plot involves the much overused concept of mix-up. Except for a few jokes, there was little to savour in Railpriya's ‘Readymade Family.' Pattabhi's (Anantu) antics were juvenile, and the whole effort lacked maturity.
At the end of the Kodai Nataka Vizha, the question was – ‘Whither Tamil theatre?' Whenever a critic gives a negative review, the playwright is enraged, and the critic gets a lecture on the difficulties of staging a play. One problem cited is the lack of financial viability in staging a play, and that for this reason alone a critic must be charitable in his/her review.
Lack of financial viability is nothing new. Amateur theatre has never been a paying proposition. In the past, as now, the person in charge of sets would be paid. Female artists would be paid and if anything was left, it would be divided among the male artists. And yet in the past good plays were the norm rather than the exception. Coming to the present, sponsor culture has come to stay. There are sponsors, who take care of major expenses and there are sabhas that offer a platform. The least that a troupe can do is to come up with a good script. That Kartik Fine Arts has been hosting an annual drama festival for 23 years is admirable. It is indeed a unique effort. But it is time to redefine the epithet, ‘unique.' Instead of staging 12 plays, of which only two or three pass muster, a screening mechanism must be put in place. The number must be limited to say six or a maximum of eight. Of course, the sabha must find a panel to vet the entries. More important is the duration. Who has the time or inclination to sit through over two hours of drama? The fare should be restricted to 90 minutes of crisp action. This will add prestige to the popular award. It is indeed time to raise the bar.