The chaste Malayalam was music to the ear.
The Ramayana is a story that lends itself to multiple interpretations. Not surprisingly many versions of the Ramayana have been written. Malayalam playwright C.N. Srikandan Nair wrote a trilogy - Saketam, Lankalakshmi and Kanchana Sita - based on the Ramayana. Ammu Stage Vision presented a condensed version of the three plays, under the title ‘Mruthyu Devo Bhava,’ which was staged at the Museum Theatre on February 7. Sutradhari, the omniscient narrator, stitched the story together, by narrating what was not seen on the stage.
Dasaratha is making arrangements for Rama’s coronation. But when his plans are thwarted, and Rama is banished to the forest, Dasaratha is broken in spirit. He wonders what he has done to deserve this. And then his past flashes before his eyes. He recalls how he had accidentally killed a boy, and had been cursed by the boy’s aged father. Dasaratha too, in his old age, would be separated from his son, the old man had said. Dasaratha realises that the curse has now come true. He loses his will to live, and Death lays claim on him.
The next scene shows a brash, confident Ravana, certain of victory against Rama. Vibhishana’s words of advice earn for him the sobriquet of traitor. But as Ravana loses one warrior after another, he knows what the denouement is going to be. Ravana now sees that behind every victory of his, Death had been lurking, every success of his only taking him further down the path of arrogance towards death.
Yet he feels impelled to fight to avenge the death of his men, and he falls to Rama’s arrow.
In the third scene, we see Rama on the throne of Ayodhya, but without Sita, for whom he had fought, Sita having been exiled. Plans are afoot to organise an Aswamedha yaga in Ayodhya. But there is a snag. The yaga requires the presence of the king’s spouse.
The orthodox sages suggest a way out. Since Rama will not remarry, why not have a likeness of Sita made in gold?
The attitude of the sages is similar to that of ours, when it comes to tradition. We are ready to make compromises as suits our convenience. That is why tradition is so hard to define, shifting like the sands of Time.
Valmiki arrives and asks Rama to take back Sita. Rama says he will, only if she swears before the sacrificial fire, that she is chaste. Hurt by Rama’s words, Sita prays to the Earth to swallow her up.
The Sutradhari comes on stage and explains the message of the play. We love, marry and make war, and in the process forget that life is nothing but a journey from birth to death. Death is the protagonist of the play – the all-powerful one, which fells king and commoner.
The message was clichéd, but the beauty was in the dialogue. The chaste Malayalam was music to the ear. The lines had been retained from the original plays, except the Sutradhari’s, which had been written by Chandran Rajaveedhy, director of the play, who had done a good job.
And despite the play being about Death, it was not macabre, but contemplative, and only mildly disturbing. The performance of the actors was mixed, from excellent to mediocre. Vallathol Unnikrishnan as Dasaratha alternated between ebullience, dejection, and resignation very well. Joseph as Ravana essayed his role neatly. Manoj (Vibishana) captured the fleeting emotions through his expressive eyes.
A disappointment was Rama (Jayakumar), who just hammed his way through. Sita (Mahima) was dowdy. Her role, strangely, was limited to an ear splitting scream, and a few lines of dialogue ineffectively delivered. The music was so loud that it drowned the dialogue in many places.
A word about audience etiquette. Despite the request to switch off cell phones, one could hear a variety of ring tones and even some telephone conversations, during the play. As for the venue, the stink from the toilets was unbearable.