Nasser’s arresting stage presence at once captured the persona of the great hero Karna, at the Natyarangam fest.

Nasser as ‘Karnan’ played to a packed hall at the Natyarangam festival. Naturally, expectations were high at the Narada Gana Sabha hall considering how the actor meticulously approaches each role he plays and gives his best.

The sets (T. Puroshottam) comprised a chariot wheel placed at the centre of the stage and a checked board of dice as the backdrop. Spears, bows and arrows summoned up the spirit of the warrior and the atmosphere of war. To the left was the seated image of Aravan, the symbol of valour, sacrifice and exploitation. Boulders and tree stumps strewn at intervals created the picture of the battlefield and desolation. They also aided in stage utilisation during the monologue, the original script of which was by Prof. Raghuraman and performance text by Karuna Prasad.

Nasser’s arresting stage presence at once captured the persona of the great hero, who is rent apart by the circumstances of his birth and by the clever stratagems employed to vanquish him.

Seldom in Tamil parallel theatre does one hear the enunciation of words done flawlessly. Nasser’s monologue was a joy to hear; every syllable rang out perfect and clear, and the voice deep and strong reverberated through the hall. Gesture and word were matched well and the costume appropriate.

The warrior’s journey

The monologue traversed the journey of the great warrior’s life, from the time he is set adrift as a baby on the river by his grieving mother, to his fall at the battlefield. After death, his soul rises, asking questions that remained unvoiced when he was alive. These relate to dharma and adharma, Lord Krishna’s role and actions.

The contemporary was brought in through references to war and injustice, present day strife and bloodshed in various regions of the world where innocent civilians are slaughtered, pawns in the power game. The sound effects of whirring helicopters and pounding gunfire, screaming women and wailing children reinforced these images.

The play dwelt again and again on Karna’s humiliation at questions being raised, even by his wife Subhangi, about his parentage; in the monologue, his soul grieves that he underwent death each time this happened.

Karna’s is a magnificent personality, many layered and many splendoured: good son, great friend, powerful foe, skilled warrior, generous almsgiver — a figure abandoned by his own, buffeted by Destiny and denied his due.

The performance text repeatedly focussed on his pain regarding his parentage; other dimensions of his personality and his tragic life were thus nudged aside.

Influences

What the actor promised he delivered — “to do justice to the portion he was focussing on.” And there were touches of directorial skill.

“There is no actor perhaps who is not influenced by Sivaji (Ganesan) Sir’s ‘Karnan’,” said Nasser to this correspondent in an interview a few days before the show. Traces of the influence could be discerned at the performance.

If only the performance text had been multi-layered and the direction able to exploit the actor’s vast histrionic talent more, the ‘Karnan’ who emerged would have been much more memorable. As it is it, the play left the viewer with a vague sense of dissatisfaction, of potential not fully explored.

The sound effects (K. Santhosh) were impressive but the decibel levels were too high. This was also a theatre production where much attention had been lavished on technical effects. Lights were brilliantly executed by M. Natesh.

The music (Poly Varghese) highlighted the pathos. But the lament and the weeping of both Kunti (Chandra) and Subangi (Kalirani) were abrasive and the tone grated. They were not in consonance with the sober dignity of the character and rent the carefully built up intensity.

What ‘Karnan,’ directed by K.S. Karuna Prasad, succeeded in doing was to return a powerful actor to the stage and by doing so, give it a boost that is sure to make a difference to its fabric.

If those from cinema return to the theatre, then it may make a substantial difference to viewership as cinema has a charisma that cannot be wished away.

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