With his plays Jayaprakash Kulur aims to nudge the audience out of their slumber

Irony is the clinching essence of Jayapraksh Kulur’s many plays. He pins it down to the first ironic moment, the first “drama” of his life. “I am told that I cried incessantly after I was born. And there was my father distributing laddoos. My entry to the world itself is marked by irony,” says Kulur.

Over the past 40 years, plays have steadily trooped out his pen. Some he had held close and directed, a lot more have been adopted by troupes, individuals and students. While the Sangeeta Natak Akademi saluted his contribution to theatre, Sahitya Akademi felicitated his skills as a playwright for Jayaprakash Kulurinte 18 Natakangal. Recognitions are soothing, agrees Kulur, but the real intoxication is theatre itself.

What was once his “theatre camp” in Kozhikode, is today home, office and theatre space. In the thin room rests the legacy of the past, the name plate of his father and tax practitioner R.N. Kulur, whose profession the son has continued. Kulur, though, is also a lawyer.

Chunks of space in this room are taken by his passion and mission – theatre. Plays written years ago rest in files stacked high and bordered by dust. They are often scoured by students when they prepare for competitions. On the top floor are some of his “students.” Most of them have frequented him for years, looking for plays and parts and wanting to know more about theatre. Quite a few among this raw talent have gone on to pursue theatre professionally.

Pure theatre

The irony is intact, as Kulur, who has never been to a drama school, guides hundreds of youngsters on the intricacies of theatre. His theatre is not dictated by numbers. The number of plays he has penned or the youngsters he has readied for theatre remains happily nebulous. “I just know there are nine of them upstairs working on a production,” says Kulur. Training or teaching is not what Kulur has in mind. “I would call it scavenging, cleaning them of all the impurities about theatre that they have accumulated over the years.”

Stripping away paraphernalia, it is drama at its purest that Kulur looks for. So his theatre is equally at home without sets and curtains as it is with it. Kulur is not pleased with slotting. So if one tells him about his solo plays with minimum fuss, he draws attention to a handful of full-fledged plays still doing the rounds. “My play Oyamari is being performed by the Kolkata-based troupe Manas in different parts of the State this month. Oyamari is archaic Malayalam and it is what we call ozhiyabaadha today,” says Kulur.

Mastering Malayalam

The playwright’s Malayalam never gives a hint of it not being his mother tongue until he slips into Konkani with his wife, Anupama. Language is a challenge he tamed early as he woke to plays and performances.

“I was in one of those early classes at school when the tall, thin Karthiyayani teacher asked who among us wanted to be part of ‘Shishulokam’, a programme on AIR. I got up and the class laughed. They laughed for I did not know Malayalam. ‘Upakaranam’ became ‘koparanam’ when I said it. But Karthiyayani teacher was patient and later she would grow to be a reference in many of my plays,” remembers Kulur.

At 61, Malayalam is home. In his repertoire is a phonetic play in Malayalam. “It is a humorous play as a father and son dissects what we understand, what we don’t and why we don’t. It is constructed around the sounds a baby makes till he is nine months old,” explains Kulur. This is among his many texts that have never been performed. “I have not found an apt cast.”

It has at times taken years and decades for Kulur to find his apt audience. He narrates the story of Quack, Quack, the play he wrote at 19, also his first play. Its recipe was undoubtedly modern with the audience being an active player, engaging in a power tussle with the character. It apparently did not find many takers in its first outing. “The play is a fight between the sound the audience and the actor makes. Mostly the actor loses. Now it is being performed across India as a street play, a mainstream play and an academic play,” says Kulur.

If early innovations could brand him experimental, he proved he was at peace with professional theatre with Bhagyarekha and Bommakkolu both of which won laurels. But theatre was not profession, and professional theatre not a friend for life. “Then I would have lost the children upstairs,” he is cryptic.

His theatre unfolds in street corners, on stages, at birthday parties and festivals. They are solo, two-people and multi-cast. But they, almost never, allow passive viewing. The audience is nudged, teased and prodded to be part of it. Even his latest play Baledithi, on a woman charged with causing public nuisance as she struggles to build a toilet for herself, does not break the unwritten norm. “My politics is my theatre. It is my quest. There may be a tinge of exaggeration in what I say. But for the past 40 years, I have got up at 3 every morning to pursue this search.”

Documenting plays

Kulur now is engaged in chronicling the documents of this search – the plays. While Jayaprakash Kulurinte 18 Natakangal has hit the stands, bit by bit he is feeding his plays into his notebook. But he is still at it, gently cajoling theatre to encompass more. Among his newer endeavours are family plays – plays put up by a few families for their friends, relatives and well-wishers.

“They are not professional actors or amateur actors. They do not have the guts to perform before a full audience on formal stage.” But they love theatre and want to act. So Kulur prepared them and they performed nine Shakespearean monologues before a close-knit group at a club. “Now they want to know when they can perform next,” he laughs.

Breaking barriers

Often performances sans constraints, be it curtain or green room, is what Kulur banks on to strip actors of inhibitions. “Breaking boundaries is possible only in theatre.”

He hopes the experimental production in his mind will break further barriers. “It is still in gestation period. The script reading and studying session are still on. Rehearsals have not started. There are 10 plays in all.”

Does he miss doing theatre full-time? “No, my left brain does the Mathematics, my right brain does the creative work. Then I do yoga and there is fine balance.”

My politics is my theatre. It is my quest…. But for the past 40 years, I have got up at 3 every morning to pursue this search