“Andhatha” is an earnest attempt at serious theatre by an amateur group

The Town Hall burst at the seams when Andhatha (Blindness), adapted from Jose Saramago’s novel by the same name, was performed by the Central Arts Club, Kannur. Enthusiasts uncomplainingly spread newspaper sheets on the floor, while others stood in the alley or craned their necks from the corridors around the hall for the duration of the play. The first play to be staged as part of the Kerala Sangeetha Nataka Akademi’s Regional Amateur Theatre Competitions for northern Kerala, Andhatha respected the trouble the audience took to watch it.

The play remained largely loyal to the novel, yet managed to be wholesome. The performers abandoned the stage and instead took up half the hall. The properties were elaborate and numerous and the actors deftly changed them for the scenes. Two streams of bulbs glowed and dimmed throughout, accentuating the script’s interplay between blindness and light, seeing and not seeing.

The city and its residents are nameless and so is the mysterious and sudden “white blindness” that afflicts them. The story of each victim was performed convincingly by the actors. The extensive properties effectively evoked the feel of a traffic intersection or a clandestine rendezvous in a hotel. To give the audience a hint of the sudden, white blindness that can strike, light panned down on us every now and then.

Straddling uncertainties

Andhatha is at ease with ambiguities — namelessness, timelessness and also lack of logic. The victims are everyone — the man driving the car stranded at the intersection and also the first victim, the girl with dark glasses after an episode of lust, the thief who stole the first blind man’s car, the doctor who treats his blind patients.

A panicked government packs the victims off to a dirty mental asylum and quarantines them. A cramped arrangement of numerous grim, white sheets held by poles on either end conveyed squalor and misery. The “doctor’s wife”, the only one who can see, is at once the narrator, the face of compassion and the force that holds together a blind society. Darkness, deprivation, hunger, dictatorship, anarchy and finally new light and a new dawn are the sequences through which Andhatha travels. The action focuses on the asylum, which turns into a centre that has broken apart, disorder and anarchy spreading beyond its walls. The institutions that make the society have fallen apart and a new order awaits creation, a new way of seeing. Andhatha is layered, open to interpretations. And it cleverly stays away from being preachy.

The play has been put together by an earnest group. However, it would have worked better with a little restraint in all aspects — acting, properties and even music. The performances leaned towards the dramatic, while the music at times interfered with narrative. But all that takes nothing away from an effort which veered more towards the professional than the amateurish.