STAGE: With an unmarried daughter as the pivot, K. Balachander's play had nothing new to offer.

A few months ago, veteran director K. Balachander returned to the stage after decades with his play 'Pournami,' raising hopes that he would infuse fresh life into the sabha theatre. He follows it up with 'Oru Koodai Pasam' presented under the auspices of the Kartik Fine Arts at the Narada Gana Sabha auditorium.

The play, written and directed by Balachander and inaugurated by Kavithalaya Theatres came on quietly, without hype. But still one's expectations were rather high. The first scene with sounds of the crass squabbling of a couple put the expectations on hold. What followed set the tone and theme of the play.

The plot

In a middle class home, the members, consisting of two young men, their wheelchair bound mother and their old grandfather, anxiously await the delayed return of the daughter of the house from office.

The mother soon expresses her anguish at the unmarried state of her daughter and her boys, and the theme of the play is set. As in countless sabha plays that have gone before, it is "marriage" around which the work is built. And your hopes for something new begin to disintegrate as the play proceeds on its long run.

When the over-the-hill daughter returns home and reiterates that she has no intention of getting married, you know that the play's aim is to see that not only does she do so, but her reverential brothers do so as well. A male colleague turns up at the home, drawing a red herring, a very thin one, regarding the true identity of the heroine's suitor.

We also treated to the inane love affair between the brother of the heroine and an impertinent slip of a girl who enters the house as a salesperson. But she is welcomed into the house as a prospective bride with the mother immediately bestowing her blessings upon her. The mother's brother and a few minor characters make up the rest of the cast.

Renuka as the heroine put up one of the most self-conscious displays seen recently on the sabha scene, despite some expressive moments. The air of artificiality was most evident in her gait across the stage whenever a certain tune was played to signify romantic thoughts. The brothers were perhaps deliberately farcical. Though the older one had his moments, the other played the imbecile to an annoying degree.

Malathi in the role of the mother had minimal work to do. T.M. Karthik as her brother seemed to be mainly preoccupied in keeping the pillow in place provided mystifyingly to lend him substantial abdominal girth. The grandfather ('Telephone' Venkataraman) scored with his fetish for accuracy.

The play was a stew of various elements - the light, the sentimental and the serious {ndash} and was not tight and cohesive. It appeared to be a rehash of various familiar features - the woman who has sacrificed much to bring up her family, the perky girl who instantly wins hearts and uses a particular exclamation, the independent and confident woman who does not hesitate to speak her mind.

There were also the stock characters such as the uncle and the grandfather.

Insensitive reference

A plethora of issues was mentioned - ill treatment of the aged, domestic violence, the condition of women and so on. And one could see no reason for bringing in the insensitive reference to gays. Serious issues were just raised in passing and brushed aside. Or used as a plug.

The worst was the way in which the issue of child abuse was brought up by the heroine. Where was the need to introduce it at all? The fact that she had so many responsibilities to shoulder could have served well enough as a reason for her remaining single. The dance between the young couple was peppy.

Some good production values, lilting music and a few good directorial touches notwithstanding this could be any play by any other on the sabha scene.

The writer-director's passion for the stage is appreciable. But one expects much more than what was offered in 'Oru Koodai Pasam' from the acknowledged veteran of stage and screen.