Chennai Drama House that focuses on Tamil theatre for a young, urban audience will stage Kurukku Vazhiyil Traffic Jam on April 14
When the members of Chennai Drama House (CDH) tell people they’re about to stage a Tamil play, they are routinely asked if they will wear fancy headgear and excessive make-up; others wonder if the entire play will be in ‘pure Tamil’. “There’s a lack of awareness, from people of this generation, about Tamil theatre,” says Karthik Bhatt, one of the founding members of CDH. “Clearly, they haven’t been part of the era when it was magnificent,” he says.
Since 2008, however, CDH has done its bit to remove these misconceptions, popularise Tamil theatre, and make it accessible to a young, urban audience. Being young and urban themselves helps; Vivek Rajagopal (CDH was his brainchild), is a IIM-B graduate, working with a leading hospital chain; Karthik Bhatt is a chartered accountant, Vikram Mankal is with an energy and infrastructure company, while Kaushik Ramesh works for an e-learning start-up. The four met at school (Vidya Mandir), where they put up skits that were written by Vivek. Later, missing the buzz of theatre, and being on stage together, they staged their first comedy Kandapadi Kandupidi in May 2008. The oldest member of the troupe then was just 24.
“We’re now three productions and 51 shows old,” says Karthik, adding that comedy is an extension of their personalities. “But it’s a risky genre. If your jokes don’t work, then you end up being a joke. Thankfully, our scripts have allowed us to be funny on stage and not off it!” It was, in fact, their first script — one that impressed legendary theatre personality Crazy Mohan, whose comedies everybody in the troupe loved and grew up watching — that got them their first sabha performance. “We just wanted to stage a skit for family and friends; but Crazy Mohan took us to the sabhas, and Karthik Fine Arts gave us our first opportunity. Initially, our goal was just to stage one show; then it was two; we then thought we should perform in an air conditioned auditorium; Narada Gana Sabha, and then outstation… we managed to achieve it all!” Vivek says.
Writing comedy is a challenge, acknowledges Vivek, especially given the huge disconnect between urban youth and Tamil theatre. “There aren’t many youngsters taking up Tamil theatre,” says Kaushik, while Vikram adds that they hope, therefore, to attract and sustain the interest of a younger audience, so that the art form is kept alive. Except, the hitch, says Vivek, is that the audience profile for a typical Tamil play tends to be older. So, if he wrote out a play that was geared solely for the younger crowd, there was a risk he’d put off the staple audience. “We had to strike a balance and make everybody happy. More importantly, we wanted to do comedy without vulgarity,” he says, and narrates how K. Balachander — one of his biggest inspirations — commended their award-winning second play (Indru Poi Netru Vaa) for its ‘content, spark and energy’.
With a show round the corner — they’re staging their third play Kurukku Vazhiyil Traffic Jam on April 14, (it inaugurated at the Kodai Nataka Vizha, 2012, where it won four awards) — they talk about their passion for theatre (as opposed to money) that keeps them going. “We all have full-time jobs, so we rehearse during weekends. Before a new play, the practise is intense,” says Karthik. “Yet, every show is a little like the first one,” says Kaushik, “there’s the same excitement. But we now improvise on the spot, and the response is good. We’ve actually come a long way from our earlier shows, with better lights, props and music”.
“Ultimately, we want to show the world that Tamil drama is not old-fashioned, and garner for it the appreciation it truly deserves. Many good plays tend to go unnoticed, we’d like to change that,” says Vikram. “We want our audience to go home happy,” says Karthik.
(Chennai Drama House presents Kurukku Vazhiyil Traffic Jam at 7pm, on April 14, at Sivagami Pethachi Auditorium, Mylapore. For tickets look up indianstage.in or call 99622 28077/98407 10569)