It's been 35 years since Nataraja ‘Soorya' Krishnamoorthy, a former scientist with the Indian Space Research Organisation, founded the Soorya Stage and Film Society and the ‘Theatre of Freedom' movement. Today Soorya is one of the largest cultural societies in the country and is well-known for its promotion of Indian classical arts and culture through its annual Soorya Festival, which, from this year onwards, is a 365-day long fete to be held in various cities across the country, and the world. Krishnamoorthy, who is at present the Chairman of the Kerala Sangeeta Nataka Akademi, has also had more or less an equal success with the ‘Theatre of Freedom' movement, writing and directing some standout experimental plays in Malayalam. and perhaps, more importantly, providing a stage for Malayalam theatre to come out of its rustic confines and into mainstream psyche. That Krishnamoorthy is “ready for new challenges” was evident during the Soorya Theatre Festival in Thiruvananthapuram, when he, along with 16 artistes from his troupe, Soorya Theatres, set a record of sorts by staging 12 plays over a period of seven consecutive days! Friday Review caught up with Krishnamoorthy, while his troupe was practising for the upcoming performance of his masterpiece ‘Parinayam,' on the rooftop of his house in Thiruvananthapuram, on which he has built a koothambalam. Excerpts from an interview where Krishnamoorthy talked about this latest “adventure” on stage...
My idiom in theatre
I call my theatre art form ‘Theatre of Freedom' because I don't conform to set rules of theatre. I take many liberties to present my characters. Nature is an important character in my plays. Similarly, the character of Ammu is a constant. Ammu may represent me or myriad others who have turbulence in their minds.
Twelve plays in seven days
It's perhaps for the first time in the history of the Malayalam theatre movement, or even in the Indian theatre movement for that matter, that a director and the same set of actors are attempting such a feat on stage. We have presented a judicious mixture of short plays and major plays. It is a very difficult process because 12 plays mean 12 sets of characters, creating different sets for each, lighting patterns, stage properties, and so on. Kudos to the 16 actors who pulled it all off without a hitch! Memorising lines for one play is difficult let alone 12! They've been practising for the past four-five months. This was truly an actors' theatre fete.
Methodology of presentation
We've attempted to change the methodology of presentation of the plays. For instance, the first play presented was ‘Pulari,' one of my own plays. For this we did away with the proscenium stage and instead created the set of a village in an open area so that the audience could get a real-time perspective of the unfolding action. This real-time concept is something between a light and sound show and a proscenium play. Of the 12 plays, only ‘Pulari' and ‘Melvilasam' are my stories. We also staged stories by Tagore (‘Sookshmacharcha'), N.N. Pillai (‘Suddha Maddalam'), M.T. Vasudevan Nair (‘Parinayam'), Vaikom Muhammad Basheer (‘Premalekhanam'), and so on. Only, all these stories have been re-written to suit the stage. In most cases I have introduced many new characters to each of the plays or added sequels to the original stories. For example, ‘Premalekhanam Oru Thudarnatakam' (based on a story by Manacaud Basheer) takes up the story of Kesavan Nair and Saramma after a few years.
Debuting a comedy
In my 35-year career in theatre I have never presented a play that is hilarious, until this year when I directed the comedy ‘Thaskaran' (story by V.K. Prabhakaran). It's about a thief who encounters a government employee who is notorious for taking bribes. Later two policemen also enter the scene. As the story progresses the audience gets more and more confused as to which person is the actual thief. I attempted a comedy because at present I am in a happy state of mind. Of late, I've found that comedy is an amazing tool to take a dig at society. It's not an easy task, though. In fact, it's much easier to get the audience to cry than getting them to laugh. Admittedly, I was a nervous wreck before Soorya Theatres presented ‘Thaskaran!' I'm glad it clicked.
Wooing newer audiences
It's heartening to see a packed audience for our plays, and the numbers of those interested in theatre is steadily increasing. In fact, the audience response for the plays has inspired us to take these 12 plays on a travelling theatre festival. We will be touring every district in the State in the months of March, April, and May 2012.