‘Soorya’ Krishnamoorthy’s Premalekhanam, Oru Thudarnadakam, a sequel to Vaikom Mohammed Basheer’s Premalekhanam, failed to live up to the expectations of the audience.
Imagine writing the same letter, that too a love letter, after a gap of more than 70 years, all the while trying to capture the magic of a writer like Vaikom Mohammed Basheer. This was the task before ‘Soorya’ Krishnamoorthy, chairman of the Kerala Lalitakala Akademi, when he set out to make a sequel to his theatre adaptation of Basheer’s short and sweet love story Premalekhanam (Love Letter).
Krishnamoorthy first brought Premalekhanam to the stage in 2008. Amal Raj and his wife, Lakshmi, performed the one-hour play on more than 500 stages before the three got together to work on Premalekhanam, Oru Thudurnadakam (Love Letter – An Epilogue). The second performance of the sequel was recently staged at Town Hall, Kochi.
“After I did a light-and-sound show based on Basheer’s Neelavelicham (The Blue Light), the master himself called me and asked me to write its second part. This attempt was also inspired by that energy and blessing. I was trying to analyse how the characters in the original story would have reacted to the changed circumstances of the present times,” Krishnamoorthy told Friday Review during a chat after the play.
Both the plays were presented, back-to-back, at Town Hall. “When the second play was premiered at last year’s Soorya Festival, we felt that those among the audience who were not familiar with the original story or the first play missed the context,” said Amal.
The original story has Kesavan Nair, a bank employee, braving social barriers to declare his love to Saramma, daughter of his Christian house owner. Written in the 1940s, the story challenged the segregations on the basis of religion and hailed the magic of love to surpass those barriers.
As only Basheer could conjure up, debates that Kesavan Nair and Saramma have about their life together come to fore when they discuss possible names for their son.
Coining a unique name
After failing to reach a consensus on a ‘religion neutral’ name, even after trying out Chinese ones, the couple combine two different words and coin a unique name – Akasa-mittayi (Sky-Toffee).
The first play more or less followed the original narrative of Basheer and hence succeeded in retaining its charm. Both Amal and Lakshmi were impressive in recreating the body language and dialogue rendering of the Forties. This they did even while trying to break the conventional theatre format and choosing an arena mode to establish a direct contact with the audience.
But when it came to the second part, which was staged after a short break of 10 minutes that was required for changing the minimal properties and costumes, it felt more like ‘Sky-Toffee’. They were different and remained different, despite earnest efforts on the part of the playwright, director and actors.
Basheer Manacaud, who wrote the second play, succumbed to the temptation of imitating the real Vaikom Mohammed Basheer. The sequel has Kesavan and Saramma already married and yet struggling to find a common space.
While Kesavan is struggling to make ends meet, Saramma is lost in the world of superstition and blindly falls for all gimmicks and advertisements that claim to make people rich overnight. Saramma is ardently hoping for a child and is willing to believe in any godman who claims to be able to help her.
The contrast between these two plays was in the characterisation. In an amazing display of mastery over story-telling, Basheer presents Saramma as being insensitive to Kesavan’s tenderness during the early days of their romance, only to end the story by revealing her real nature as someone who loved her man just as passionately and yet was level-headed to plan for their future together.
However, Saramma appeared to be weak and gullible in the second part and it took an act of deception by Kesavan, to make her see through her follies before they decide to consult a doctor to seek treatment for infertility. Women characters in Basheer’s works were never this flat or uni-dimensional.
“This is only the second production and it will go through a lot of revision till its fifth or sixth production. Only then can I consider it as a mature enough play,” said Krishnamoorthy. The plays were staged by Act-A Centre for Theatre, a collective of young theatre enthusiasts in Kochi.