Michael Muthu from Chennai is contributing his ‘might' to theatre among Kochi city school students

The latest buzz in theatre circles in the city is the staging of ‘Oliver Twist' by students of city schools, brought together by Magic Theatre. The bigger buzz is the man behind the play, Michael Muthu.

It is tough getting Michael to talk and least of all about himself. This actor-director is a well-known face in theatre circles in Chennai, Bengaluru and Hyderabad . And now he is directing a bunch of school kids. Not that he is unfamiliar with that either, he has directed kids in some of his productions such as ‘Oliver Twist' which was staged in Chennai recently.

“There the grown-up roles were done by grown-ups, but here in this production, it is the kids who are doing the grown up roles as well. And that is where the challenge is,” says Michael.

He has been coming to the city almost every fortnight for the practice sessions of ‘Oliver Twist'. The kids have been practicing since January. He, however, plans to be here for 10 days at a stretch in August till the play is staged on August 16. The kids putting up a good show shouldn't be much of a problem, because “in terms of raw talent some of the kids here are really good. Be it the way they say their lines or how they emote.”

Michael has been involved in and with theatre for more than 20 years now. His theatre company, Boardwalkers Theatre Foundation, has made many plays which have been staged in Chennai, Bengaluru, Hyderabad etc. He has been working with the Loyola Theatre Society for almost 20 years. His repertoire (as director) includes plays such as ‘Biloxi Nights', ‘Hairy Ape', ‘The Pied Piper of Hamelin', ‘The Fallen', ‘Jesus Christ Superstar', ‘Reservoir Dogs', ‘An Idiot for Dinner' etc. The last two are adaptations of films. He has directed plays such as ‘Oliver Twist', ‘Sound Of Music', ‘Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory' and ‘Noddy' to make up an hour's show. He has also scripted and directed ‘Pirates of the Curried Beans' for kids. He has acted in films as well, “I have done a few films. No, not Indian films…French and Italian.” He stops at that.

And what about Manoj Night Shyamalan and his debut film ‘Praying with Anger'? Michael laughs, “That was ages ago. Night had just finished a course in New York and he was in Chennai to make the film.” Manoj Night scripted, directed and acted in the film about a young Indian-American (Dev Raman) who returns to India. Michael played the role of Sanjay, Dev's friend in India who guides him in the ‘ways' of India. This was in the early 90s much before he became THE Manoj Night Shyamalan. But Michael says that the present M. Night Shyamalan was there even then in terms of how he worked and his ideas. “I learnt a lot from him, I just absorbed so much,” he says. Since he straddles the twin planes of theatre's instant connect and cinema's technological advantage, which does he prefer? His says both, theatre of course, but cinema too is a ‘fascinating' medium. In fact he directed a film (English), ‘The Girl' in 2002.

His oeuvre comprises adaptations of English plays or of films. What about the whole ‘Indian English' theatre hype, about scripts that are Indian, of the Indian experience? To which he says that his productions are Indian in the obvious sense of Indians being involved in them. That would be the simplistic explanation.

“I don't do Indian plays because there is no originality and they have the same old clichéd topics such as displacement etc,” he says. He names a popular Indian playwright and is forthright enough to says his “works are boring.” So what would be a good play? To begin with, it would have to be an original script with substance and meaningful dialogues and of course the rest would follow. He goes on to say if he wrote a script there is no doubt it would be a comedy.

As someone who has been involved with theatre for the last two decades plus, how does he perceive the current spurt in activity? Aside from the fact that theatre has become viable, he says, there are more youngsters involved because this (theatre) is seen as a stepping stone to cinema. “Which is good because this is one place where you can hone your skills as an actor,” Michael says.

Which audience receives his plays best? “Not Chennai, it has to be Bangalore. It is like they say ‘a prophet is not appreciated in his country'!” So he is a prophet? He laughs and then adds emphatically “No!”

Keywords: theatre