The play ‘Kuriyedathu Thathri’ questions the subjugation of women and challenges the injustice meted out to them over the years.

More than a hundred years might have gone by. But questions that a woman asked at the beginning of the 20th century continue to resonate in the present time, threatening to unsettle echelons of power, who believe that money and influence can stop women fighting for an even playing ground.

In fact, those who watched the two-and-a-half-hour ‘Kuriyedathu Thathri’, a play directed by Manoj Narayanan, were left wondering what had changed over the years. No wonder the play bagged state awards for best direction, art direction, actor and actress.

When it was staged to a packed hall at the Vyloppilly Samskriti Bhavan in the capital city, the play touched the audience with its bold statements against the ‘commodification’ of women.

The playwright fabricated an event from contemporary times as a framework for the main plot to help viewers relate to the plight of Kuriyedathu Savithri, a historical character, who was tried, humiliated and ostracised by her community. Even without such a framework Thathri could have easily struck a chord with the viewers. Perhaps the director wanted to focus on the never-ending torment of the ‘fallen’ or the raped woman, as she was required to describe graphically in a trial, before men, her ordeals all over again. The ‘trial' was on the lines of a ‘smarthavicharam (a trial), a practice that existed in the Namboothiri families at the beginning of the last century.

But unlike the many meek women of those times, Kuriyedathu Thathri was not someone who was willing to accept the injustice of an orthodox society. She grew up seeing the plight of women who were exploited to please the men who dominated society. Thathri also had to succumb to the same circumstances, but that was long ago.

A strong woman

When we see her in the play, she is strong-willed and hell bent upon bringing all those culprits – government officers, temple priests, Kathakali artistes – who had abused her before the law.

Perhaps, that is the only drawback of her character; she doesn’t evolve with the progress of the story. She is all about revenge from the beginning to the end. Against Thathri is pitted the character of Kuriyedathu Raman, her helpless husband. Though history doesn’t tell us much about him in detail, the play highlights the character by portraying him in a sympathetic light as the naive husband who does not know what to do once he finds himself caught between warring ideologies.

‘Smarthavicharam’ comes as the climax of the play. Thathri is tried before a court appointed by the king. The questions that ‘Smarthan’ (judge) and other men ask remind us about modern-day trials that victims are forced to undergo after a rape or a molestation. Even the media is not spared.

The story touches its acerbic heights when the ‘Sadhanam’, as Thathri is ritually addressed by the court, turns the heat on the jury by divulging the last name in the long list of men who had abused her. The whole trial is wound up in haste as Kuriyedathu Thathri, with a mischievous smile, produces the royal ring as evidence.

Brilliant acting

All actors did their roles with elan, but it was Murukesh Kakkoor who stole the show with his heart-rending performance as Kuriyedathu Raman.

The presence of eunuchs underlined the point that it is difficult to live either as man or as woman in a patriarchal world. Both sexes are trapped in a way, as they are forced to carry out the roles that society expects them to do.

Manoj Narayanan, the veteran playwright who has directed more than 50 plays, says: “It is a perennial theme that cuts across different cultures and different times.”

The play, presented by Manappuram Theatres, Thrissur, was staged as part of a theatre workshop conducted by Vyloppilly Samskriti Bhavan.