It is through remarkable production values that Dhanushkodi stands out.
“Dhanushkodi” conjures up images of a tragedy and its aftermath - of tidal waves submerging a town near Rameswaram in December 1964 and sketching pictures of desolation and disaster. It has become a synonym for the sea's fury.
Leading actors from various groups in the city have come together with the avowed aim of infusing freshness into the Tamil theatre scene naming their group Shraddha. And when they presented their play “Dhanushkodi,” written and directed by Vivek Shankar, certain images preceded it. But these dissolved during the opening scenes of their inaugural show staged under the auspices of Kartik Fine Arts at the Narada Gana Sabha hall.
“Dhanushkodi” was a play centred round a few fictitious individuals of the town and did not deal with the community at large. It did not embrace the colossal magnitude or the repercussions of a cataclysmic event but safely played out the theme of suspense and micro events that have been dealt with before. The production values were, however, remarkably high. The stage setting was aesthetic and unusually good for a mainstream Tamil theatre production. The spacious entrance hall with the beautifully pillared mutram of an old style home was recreated. The sets had a three-dimensional effect.
It took inordinately long for the plot, the characters' identities and linkages to be established. The resident of the house, one learnt slowly, was an official in a bank and the person who darted in and out, his friend and neighbour. The action is played out on a day of almost incessant rain. A youth enters the house and begs that his crime of embezzlement in the bank's branch be overlooked. He soon turns to far less gentle measures to influence the elderly official. But it is quite a long one and half hours later that the situation is resolved though the plot can be contained in a few lines.
One wondered why the play had to be set specifically in Dhanushkodi when it could have been located in any coastal, rain swept town. But the denouement saved the work, providing a tenuous link with the tragedy. The final scene managed to bring in the disaster with all its sound and fury. The visual effects were quite spectacular and overwhelmed viewers.
The actors played their roles adequately but the dialogue was nowhere out of the ordinary. As the friend, Kathadi Ramamurthy's easy, clear delivery of lines and natural acting displayed his experience (but then he was also only himself). As the asthma patient, T.D. Sundararajan was generally convincing. But he shook his head too much and too frequently to show anger.
The transformation of Balaji playing the role of the man driven to crime was rather baffling. He suddenly slipped into habitual criminal mode, repeatedly rolling up his shirt sleeves and gesturing menacingly as also gagging his prisoner expertly as if he did it every day of his life! M.B. Moorthy as the village priest (getting typecast?), Prema Sadasivam as the (quite inaudible) bank assistant, Preethi Hari as the smart young girl, and Kaushik as her young lover provided support of varying degree. And completing the cast was Shivaji Chaturvedi appearing in one scene as the milkman (with a highly artificial looking can) in a Hitchcockian affectation.
The heroes of the play were finally the fine special effects (Balachander) and the sets (Usha Stage Vijayakumar), not to forget the lights (Perumal Babu). Krishnamurthy was the design and technical assistant. And of course the rain which came down steadily or in torrents but generally always was preceded by a mystifying snake-like hiss.
The synergy one expects when talented veterans come together was absent largely because of the choice of a clichéd theme and repetitive events. From the 1960s, one has been treated to the theme of the residents of a house being held hostage with the criminal trying to cover up the truth when others accidentally or intentionally enter the house.
Though the play was embellished with fine production values, the potential inherent in such a collaborative venture was not explored properly. “Dhanushkodi” had the placidity of an unruffled pond rather than the thunder and the tempo of a storm at sea.
(Catch the last show of the play at the Narada Gana Sabha Hall, Friday, 6.45 p.m.)