Director Rajesh Irulam talks about his play ‘Radheyanaya Karnan’ that swept this year’s state drama awards, including the award for best play.

Karna is one of the most fascinating characters in the Mahabharata. Rajesh Irulam had been toying with the idea of staging a play based on Karna for quite a while and he discussed the idea with playwright Hemanth Kumar. That was how ‘Radheyanaya Karnan’ was born. The play, produced by Signals Valluvanadu (Malappuram), was adjudged the best play at this year’s State drama awards. It also walked away with five other awards.

“The award came as a surprise and it felt great, because it is the highest recognition a theatre person in Kerala can hope for. The award is actually like the icing on the cake, because the play has been a very successful production. It was premièred during Onam last and since then we have performed on more than 120 stages,” says Rajesh, who also won the award for best lighting. Incidentally, ‘Parakaya Pravesham’ that he directed also won the award for the second best play.

‘Radheyanaya Karnan’ also won the award for the best playwright (Hemanth Kumar), background music (Reji Gopinath and Paulose Johns) and set design (Vijayan Kadamberi).

“‘Radheyanaya Karnan’ is not what you would call a cent per cent professional drama. My approach to the play wasn’t exactly conventional. For instance, I used only suggestions as the set, which was never elaborate. And the acting too was more realistic than dramatic,” explains the Pulpally-based director.

The play deals with the issue of casteism. “Of how Karna is always snubbed because of his caste – by Drona during his training, by Draupadi at her wedding, and Bheeshma, during the war. He feels he doesn’t get justice even from his biological mother, Kunthi. The play is also about his relation with his stepmother, Radha,” says Rajesh.

Duryodhana, he adds, comes across as a positive character.

“He is portrayed as a just ruler. And the entire play is told through the eyes of Arjuna, who understands Karna’s greatness only after his death,” says Rajesh.

The director says that he was influenced by Shivaji Sawant’s Marathi novel Mrityunjaya. “I liked the portrayal of Karna in that novel. It helped me in the conceptualisation of ‘Radheyanaya Karnan’,” he explains.

The awards, he hopes, would create even more demand for the staging of the play.

“A play needs to be staged several times, round the year, to recover its production cost. Drama companies are still not paid enough by organisers. However, things are improving bit by bit, compared to the situation till a few years ago. Still drama artistes continue to be paid a pittance, compared to other performing artistes,” he points out.