Leo Prabhu returns to the stage after a 12-year hiatus with ‘Neruppu Kolangal,’ and scores with a strong storyline.

Is it a renewal or revitalisation that Tamil theatre is heading for currently after the glorious 1950s to 1970s era, when leading movie actors continued their tryst with the stage despite busy film schedules? In the 1980s, television kept the audience at home. The advent of alternative entertainment media was almost like a death knell to Tamil theatre. Credit must be given to actors and playwrights such as Kathadi Ramamurthy, Y.Gee. Mahendra, S.Ve. Shekher and Crazy Mohan, to name a few, who were steadfast in their objective of keeping Tamil theatre alive. Today many new groups have sprung up despite financial insecurity, and it is heartening to note that at least one or two dramas are being staged in some part of the city daily that draw audiences.

Probably this might have triggered Visu’s return to the stage. That TSBK Mouli is also planning a comeback, is encouraging news that is making the rounds in theatre circles.

Back with vigour

After a 12-year hiatus, Leo Prabhu is back on stage with his group, Stage Image. Leo Prabhu, who is now in his mid-70s, is another actor from the UAA bastion ( remember the muscular villain who smothers a lady with a pillow in UAA’s ‘Flight No: 172’ ?). His strength and weakness is his husky voice. Comedian T. Venkatraman who has been with Prabhu, is also back in action.

Prabhu has taken up the burden of story, dialogue, lyrics and direction of ‘Neruppu Kolangal’ with aplomb. When the storyline is strong, the stage craft does not matter.

The sets take you back to the nostalgic 1960s of Tamil Theatre. Prabhu’s daughter L. Murugashankari is the heroine. Young and vibrant, she also performs Bharatanatyam in the play, which commences and ends with her dance. It has been quite some time since dance has been featured in a play. In real life, Murugashankari is a professional Bharatanatyam artist and is also running a dance school. With such a background, her portrayal of Kayal Vizhi, a poor village dancer, with her expressions of navarasam, voice modulation and body language was natural.

Leo Prabhu essays a dignified role as Dharmaraja, who lives a life true to his name spending money on Tamil research by hiring poets and scholars for his institute and helping the poor and needy on merit. It is surprising, when Dharmaraja asks Kayal Vizhi to give up dancing through his soul mate, Poongundram, because he was the one to sponsor and encourage her to take it up in the first place. In the climax, he returns the anklets to her and tells her to go back to dancing. This upright man also refuses to get his son released on bail for his villainous crimes.

Vijayan as Poongundram was a perfect foil. Nandakumar, as the egoistical poet Solvendan, seemed stony initially. But poverty teaches him a harsh lesson and he begs Dharmaraja for help. Solvendan did not know that Dharmaraja had arranged his marriage with Kayal Vizhi and had asked her to stop dancing to drill a sense of responsibility in him. Nandakumar’s emotional outburst does ring true. Everything works out in the end. Muthukumar Anil should have taken a cue from Ilaiyaraaja’s ‘Velli Salangaigal’ (‘Kadhal Oviyum’) and composed an effective song to mark the return of the heroine to the dance stage. His song and the rendition by Mohan Raman was anaemic. Bradley Ganesan as the villain with his garish costumes, Anand as IG of Police and Vignesh Chellappan as dance master Palani perform adequately. Five-year-old Baby Praveena’s dialogue delivery, without nervousness or fear, was a pleasant surprise. Leo Prabhu took the audience back to those days of good old plays by S.V. Sahasranamam (Seva Stage), T.S. Seshadri (Little Stage), V.S. Raghavan (INA theatres), Major Sunderrajan (Padmam Theatres), Poornam Visvanathan (Poornam New Theatres), KSN (Kala Nilayam) and K. Balachander (Ragini Recreations) to mention a few.