When children turn up for a sabha drama in significant numbers, there is reason to cheer. And they were there, at Mylapore Fine Arts, on September 16 when Tamizharasan Theatres staged the play ‘Sri Narasimhar’ as part of Parthasarathy Swami Sabha’s drama festival, showing the pull that mythologicals have on kids even in these days of cable TV. One thought that the passing of R.S. Manohar meant the end of mythologicals with special effects, and then a play like ‘Sri Narasimhar’ comes along. Manohar’s take on Puranic stories was sometimes controversial, because of his casting the villain in the hero mould. ‘Sri Narasimhar’ sticks to convention, and holds audience attention without stoking controversy.

K.P. Arivanandam, responsible for the story, dialogue and songs, also played the role of Narada. This Narada was refreshingly different from the blundering buffoon that is in most plays and films. This Narada was a clever strategist, who made his moves with deliberation. He was humorous without being silly. Arivanandam did a superb job as Narada, suitably servile with Hiranyakasipu, cocky with the Devas, wise, but not preachy when he delivered his little homilies, which have contemporary relevance. Balasundaram, with his physical stature and his dialogue delivery did a good portrayal of Hiranyakasipu. He was adequately ferocious, without overdoing his role. Narasimha’s roars did have an impact and when Hiranyakasipu was lifted, the audience held its breath. Would he drop the asura, and cause some embarrassment? But no, he didn’t. It couldn’t have been easy lifting the hefty Hiranyakasipu. Full marks to Muthukumar, who played the role of Narasimha. The diction of the actors was perfect, including that of Prahlada.

Delivered with ease

Santhosh Balaji, as Prahlada, was cute, and delivered his lines — often quite lengthy — with ease. Leelavathy was matronly, and Thilothama’s dance jarred. Not surprising that Hiranyakasipu was not distracted by this dance!

After the penance, Hiranyakasipu’s moustache came undone in one corner, and unable to fix it, he turned away from the audience and discarded it! Luckily the actor had a real mustache under the false one. Else the result would have been unintentionally comic!

Some of the special effects were good, although arrows of rivals meeting in mid-air has been done to death in films and TV serials. But the fire got up to burn Prahlada looked realistic. A grayish cloth being shaken this way and that to show the billowing ocean waves didn’t have the desired effect. The director could have dispensed with this and left it to the imagination of the audience. The snake was so stiff that it looked like one in a state of rigor mortis.

But these are minor glitches that can easily be corrected in subsequent performances. The overall verdict? Three cheers for ‘Sri Narasimhar’!

About the audience. Some people from the theatre fraternity, who were in the audience, kept up a constant chatter throughout the play. This was in very bad taste, besides being most annoying.

Some liberties had been taken with the original story. In the original version it is Brahma’s sons who curse the Dwarapalakas — Jaya and Vijaya. Here Durvasa is shown as the one who curses them. Arivanandam, who wrote the story, explains that it was difficult to find four young boys to play the roles, and so the script was changed.

Balasundaram, who directed the play, talks of the difficulties of staging mythologicals, especially ones with special effects. “Although it took the writer only two months to come up with the script, we had to alter it, keeping in mind our constraints, in terms of finance, lighting, sets, availability of actors. It took us a year to plan the whole play.”

Balasundaram says he was inspired to do a play on Narasimha, after listening to M.V. Anantapadmanabhachariar’s religious discourses.

It was a heart-warming effort from Tamizharasan Theatres.