‘Satyam Parayunna Kallan’, an adaptation of Habib Tanvir’s popular play ‘Charandas Chor’, directed by Meenambalam Santosh, works around the original text to lampoon a society where truth is the greatest casualty.

‘Charandas Chor’ by playwright-director Habib Tanvir, has a timelessness that successfully overcomes specificities of geography, prompting a re-telling in different localities. Therefore, when the lovable Charandas Chor transformed into a sprightly ‘Satyam Parayunna Kallan’ in Malayalam it carried the flavour of popular professional theatre from Kerala.

In creating Charandas, Tanvir had explained thus: ‘I did not want to romanticise or produce it in a heroic style, but to play him simply and produce a character who, because of his, let’s say naïveté, ignorance, conservative nature, old-fashioned belief in vows, is so caught up in the web of his vows (which he really took inadvertently as a jest), that he doesn't think that he’s going to really succeed…’

Sunil Poomatam as the ‘satyam parayunna kallan’ successfully displayed the naïveté and nimble-footedness that is the stamp of Charandas. He had undertaken four vows – never to eat off a golden plate, never lead a procession in his honour, never become a king, and never accept a princess’ hand in marriage. All this probably because he knew these are situations that would never come his way. But the trap is quite unwittingly laid by his Guru who says the fifth vow he must take is, never to lie. True to his word the Kallan continues thieving but refrains from lying.

According to the play’s director Meenambalam Santosh, he was setting his ‘kallan’ as a foil to a society where truth is the greatest casualty. He, therefore, uses the policeman, the holy man, the roving minister, and the guru to lampoon the hypocrisy and eroding values in our lives.

We carry the burden of excesses, two major ones being material wealth and the responsibility of our elders. The first we are reluctant to offload, but the latter, it happens very easily. Power and pelf can always corner the less fortunate and this is well communicated in the Kallan’s encounter with the princess. The honest Kallan’s dilemma when asked to throw his vows to the wind and become her consort is understandable.

For the princess who has never faced a rebuff, the thief’s refusal to accept her offer of the elevated position of becoming her consort, the episode must not reach another soul. The flustered thief cannot think of deviating from his vow, and that is when all hell breaks loose. The tables are turned, he is accused of having come in to rob the princess and death is the punishment that awaits him. The princess combines in her person the charm and vile of the fairer sex and an all powerful individual.

In the hands of Santhosh the play incorporated the contemporary while at the same time retaining the naïveté of the thief who has vowed to abstain from lying!

‘Satyam Parayunna Kallan’ had a long gestation of five years. The play is based on an adaptation of the version by Rajan Kizhakenala with inputs from theatre stalwarts such as Vayala Vasudevan Pillai, P. K. Venukuttan Nair, T.M. Abraham and Chandradas.

Santhosh, an eight-time State Award winner, has used satire, social commentary and in-the-face statements on the misdoings of those enjoying power to make it relevant to our immediate environs. Regarding this production he says: “I was taking up the challenge of doing ‘Charandas Chor’ and I did not want to stumble in this exercise. Using songs by Kavalam Narayana Panikkar, set to music by Allepey Hrishikesh, and adopting the conventional ‘sangeet-natak’ format where the actors render the songs themselves was a choice I made. M. G. Sreekumar’s has sung one of the songs. I had constantly received suggestions and advice from the leading names in theatre in the state.”

The director has economised on the cast by using eleven actors to don the roles of 32 characters who appear on stage, something that has been carried off well by the actors. Kalavoor Sreelan as the Minister, Athirunkal Subhash as the Havildar, Ammini Ernest as Malli and Daasi, and Vinodini as the middle-aged lady and the princess breathed life into their characters, despite the slapstick element that was a constant. The two-hour play , an Aksharakala production, has sought to broad base its appeal so as to reach a larger segment of the viewership while living through the experience of working around the original text.