Catch up with Magic Lantern, working hard to bring alive Kalki’s epic once again.

“Five… four… three… two… one… And go”, shouts Pravin. Nallan and his wife enter the stage to announce the staging of Kalki’s ‘Ponniyin Selvan’ mounted by the theatre group, Magic Lantern… Yes, some of Tamil literature’s classic and evergreen characters will come alive once again on stage… after 15 years!

As I watch the group rehearse in Egmore, Chennai, memories surface of a balmy evening in 1991, when the green YMCA grounds became a Chola kingdom as imagined by Kalki. The historical kept me riveted like the novel did. As I now watch the crafty Azhwarkadian Nambi and the brawny Vandiyathevan exchange words in a crowded market place, I realise that time has not dimmed that magic even a wee bit.

‘Ponniyin Selvan’ will be mounted at Chennai's The Music Academy from June 8 to 14, 6 p.m. with S.S. International as producers. The play will travel to Madurai (June 27, 28 and 29 at Madurai Lakshmi Sundaram Hall) and Coimbatore (July 4, 5 & 6, at RS Puram Corporation Kalaiarangam) as well.

Pravin is director and script and adaptation are by Elango Kumaravel. While about 15 members of the original cast (Hans Kaushik, Prof. Raju and Prof. Ramaswamy, to name a few) are still around to play different parts, the other actors are fresh and raring to go. Like before, actor Pasupathy is in charge of martial arts and choreography while Thota Tharini and Paul Jacob are reprising their roles as art director and music composer. Hans Kaushik and Siva are in charge of props while Bala takes care of lights. Kalaichelvan is handling sound, costume is by Preethi Athreya, and make-up by Bhanu. The veteran Punithavathy Elangovan (the original Chembian Madevi) is helping with some traditional hymns and Thevaram.

The production is giving Pravin “sleepless nights.” Naturally. Managing a nearly 75-member cast and crew for a play that’s nearly four hours long, is no mean task. Expectations are very high. “It’s Kalki, who has charmed several generations of readers with his amazing writing and gripping story,” says Pravin.

To convert a five-part epic into a three-and-a-half hour theatrical production requires not just a dedicated cast and crew, eye-catching sets and costume and of course, huge amounts of money, but also a taut yet inclusive script.

That’s where the ingenuity of actor-writer Elango Kumaravel has come into play. While trimming the plot by half an hour, Kumaravel has added new elements.

So, we sit down to understand what new challenges the duo has had to face this time round. Excerpts…

The background

Pravin: I still remember how, in 1999, after the play, an elderly gentleman came up to me and said, “It was almost as if Kalki were narrating the story into my ear!” Now, that’s the kind of reach the play had and still has. We know what we are up against… In fact, ever since we staged the play, there have been requests every year to re-run it. Somehow things never worked out until now. SSI had approached us twice earlier. But we were not ready then. This time, they convinced us and gave us all the support needed for such a behemoth production. So here we are…

Kumaravel: For me, trimming the play was not that tough. The last time, during our post-mortem discussions, I realised there were many scenes which could have been omitted, while many interesting ones which had been left out.

So, I modified the script accordingly. Lines might go missing or scenes left out, but the spirit of the novel will not be lost.

The cast

Pravin: Getting actors who knew the language and…

Kumaravel (interrupts): I think the first task was to find people who were actually familiar with the novel and its writer!

Pravin: (continues): Learning lengthy dialogue by rote and spouting it, is no big deal. The magic of Kalki is in the way it is interpreted, imagined by each actor. A reader imagines a scene or a character in a particular way. To be able to somewhat fit into the role is the toughest part… We were looking for actors who could grasp that aspect… We are glad to have zeroed in on the present cast. Many are greenhorns and moulding them came easy.

Kumaravel: :After the auditioning way back in January, we held intensive workshops. Our aim was to ensure all of them ‘unlearnt’ everything they knew so that when the play was given to them, they would let their imagination take flight and lend a new twist to the plot.

Pravin: Just to list a few key characters… Hans Kaushik plays Azhwarkadiyan Nambi, Krishnadayal is Vandiyathevan, Sriram is Arulmozhi Varman, Prabhu is Aditya Karikalan, Preethi Athreya is Kundavai, Meera Krishnamurthy is Nandini, Bhavani and Varsha take turns to play Vanathi, Uma Maheswari is Chembian Madevi and Prof. Ramaswamy is Periya Pazhuvettaraiyar. There are some surprises as well…

Kalki in today’s world

Pravin: : Every time I read the novel, I am amazed at how Kalki draws you into the plot and his clever style of marrying fact with fiction with felicity.

Kumaravel: It is a multi-layered novel… but the underlying emotion is that of sacrifice (Tyagam). That’s why ‘Ponniyin Selvan’ appeals to people, both Gen Past and Gen Next, even today.

Ticket details

Daily donor passes: Rs. 3000, Rs. 2000, Rs. 1000, Rs. 500; Balcony : Rs. 200 and Rs. 100

Available at: Sri Krishna Apts, 75, CP Ramaswamy Road, Alwarpet; Fruit Shop on Greams Road outlets, Chamiers Café, The Music Academy (Saturdays and Sundays between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m.)

www.eventjini.com; www.indianstage.in; www.ticketnew.com

Contact: 72999 66666 or 044-42107267

TICKET DETAILS

Daily donor passes: Rs. 3000, Rs. 2000, Rs. 1000, Rs. 500; Balcony : Rs. 200 and Rs. 100

Available at: Sri Krishna Apts, 75, CP Ramaswamy Road, Alwarpet; Fruit Shop on Graems Road outlets, Chamiers Café, The Music Academy (Saturdays and Sundays between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m.)

www.eventjini.com; www.indianstage.in; www.ticketnew.com

Contact: 72999 66666 or 044-42107267