The offering at the Kodai Nataka Vizha was a mix of the bland and the comic.
Lines that highlight the quaintness of the lingo of a particular section of society may add a flavour, but they cannot serve as the foundation of a play.
In Arangan Arangam’s ‘2BHK’ (story, dialogue and direction Srirangam Rangamani), the focus seemed to be on the peculiarities of the Iyengar lingo, with content playing second fiddle. It seemed as if the writer was focussed on what unique Iyengar terms he could include, and had then built a story around it. As a result, food was a major component in the dialogue, perhaps just to include typical Iyengar words such as ‘akkaravadisal’ and ‘satramudhu.’ The story meandered, and it wasn’t clear if it was about a house, or about wedding expenses. It also had regressive observations, for example- “A girl belongs to her husband’s family, head to toe,” and “A middle class man must never have a girl child.”
The process, where the prospective groom and in-laws meet the girl, was portrayed in such an old fashioned way that one wondered which period the story was set in. The idea of a sponsored wedding is old hat. In 2008, Venkat did an entire play centred round that notion and even gave it the title, ‘Sponsored Kalyanam.’ Why did Sangeetha as Vaidehi always call her mother in an annoyingly whining tone? There was nothing to shore up the proceedings, which stretched to 140 minutes.
Stage Creations came up with ‘Appa, Appappa..’, by S.L. Naanu. Sivaraman (Kathadi) is a retired man, who is convinced that his family is disrespectful towards him. Even innocuous statements are seen as slights by this hypersensitive senior citizen. He decides that the only way to get his family to respect him, is for him to ‘disappear’ for some time, the premise being that absence will make their hearts grow fonder. So he runs away from home. The play was billed as a comedy, but it wasn’t all that funny. There was, of course, the ‘Kathadi’ factor in operation, so that every time he appeared on stage, there were laughs and claps. But strip that away for a dispassionate look and you will realise that the comic element was not that strong. ‘Running away’ is not new to Kathadi, something he did in his 1970s play, ‘Runaway Husband.’ That was a hilarious play. The ‘runaway Appa’ of 2014 didn’t quite measure up. Mocking those with Hansen’s disease was insensitive and objectionable.
“Oh! What a tangled web we weave, when first we practise to deceive!” It’s a tangled web indeed, which Raghav (Sriram) weaves in Dummies’ ‘Sugamana Poigal’. Egged on by his friend Mohan (Prasanna Sridharan), Raghav gets Ramasamy (R. Giridharan) to take the place of his father. The deception is necessitated by the threat of suspension, which Raghav faces in his college. Afraid that Raghav’s tomfoolery may jeopardise his career, Ramasamy sets him right. Raghav shows his gratitude to Ramasamy in a unique way. Prema Sadasivam as the college professor was a bit over the top, though it was not entirely her fault. The lines written for her made her sound schoolmarmish. Since there is an impersonation, there are the usual mix ups.
Sreevathson, who has written and directed the play, made good use of the potential for humour in these situations. Comedy based on such mix-ups can be successful only if all the actors in the scene get the timing right and do their roles well, and Giridharan, Prasanna and Sriram didn’t let down the playwright. Prasanna and Sriram were sprightly, but the day belonged to Giridharan as the compulsive drinker Ramasamy, whose heart is in the right place.
Sreevathson said his play was inspired by one of writer Mari Selvaraj’s articles.