Liju Krishna talks about his play ‘Moment Just Before Death’ that was nominated in six categories for the META. He won the award for the best stage design.

They say that in the moments just before death, our entire life passes before us in a flash. This concept forms the unusual theme for debutante Liju Krishna’s play, ‘Moment Just Before Death’, presented at the School of Drama, Thrissur recently. A post-graduate student at the institution, Liju’s play was nominated in six categories for the prestigious Mahindra Excellence in Theatre Award (META).

One of the most prestigious awards at the national level, it receives about 300 entries. Of these, the eight shortlisted ones are presented and adjudged by an eminent panel of jury members. Of the shortlisted entries, two were from Malayalam. To have his production amongst them is an achievement beyond Liju’s wildest dreams. He presented ‘Moment Just Before Death’ at the META festival in Delhi. He is the director, playwright and designer of this production. Excerpts from an interview…

How did this play come about?

There are many of us at the School of Drama who live and breathe theatre. In our spare time we get together and plan productions and present them. We are a group called Saga Entertainment. With our limited resources and time, we have explored the realm of drama and taken it to its utmost frontiers in this production.

How did you come by this unusual theme?

The theme was chosen for its intense psychological value. In my play, I have shown four scenes from the protagonist’s life in the moment before death. Later, I read somewhere that it has been proved by scientific studies that the number of scenes is indeed four. The scenes show what has been important in his life.

Can you elaborate on that?

The central character is a poor and simple man, living on a lonely hill side, somewhere in North Kerala. His one-room tenement is the only set I have used. His troubled relationship with his father, the latter’s tragic death, his job at the cemetery and how he met his love, these are the focal points of his life and hence also the basis of his thoughts just before death. The local deity Muthappan is almost a physical presence in the play.

The story is told in a non-linear way, moving forward and backward. It mimics our real life situation where thoughts flow unbidden in any direction they choose. The scenes are not a graphic representation of events as they happened, but as they come filtered out through his memories of them.

Is there only one character in the play?

Strictly speaking yes, there is only one character played by Manoj Omen, my classmate. One character is outside the stage space and the presence of the other is felt, not seen. These two roles have been portrayed by Saran Mohan and Alan Prak.

The protagonist lives out his life alone and awaits his death. However, the mood is neither depressing nor macabre. He bathes and dresses himself to lie in state in the coffin he has so lovingly and painstakingly built. As he waits for the final moment, he relives crucial moments from his life. We then get to ‘see’ how he led his life. For him, the final journey is a walk away and he goes out to meet it. Manoj has been nominated for the Best Actor Award.

Have you experimented with sets?

Yes, I have used minimal props and my training as a designer has come to my aid in setting up the stage to facilitate fluidity. It is very difficult to show flashbacks on stage as I have had to. The stage settings are light and flowing, they allow for flexibility. I was particularly pleased we won the award for Best Stage Design.

Renowned music director Bijbal has scored the music and the sole song has lyrics by Engandiyoor Chandrashekaran and choreography by Neeraj Madhav. Light and sound settings have a vital role to play as the drama has to move between past and present and reality and imagination. Light design by Ranjith Panikkassery got a nomination, as also art design by Satheesh Padre.