The classics have been revived by Kalaivanan and Pugazhendi

Much has been said about doyen T.K. Shanmugam, and the contribution of the TKS Brothers to Tamil theatre. But is the legacy alive? This writer is happy to record that it is very much alive with the sons staging plays made famous by the duo. ‘Vengai Marban,’ which the troupe presented last month was of a high standard.

Kalaivanan and Pugazhendhi, sons of ‘Avvai ‘Shanmugham, founder of TKS Nataka Sabha, started their career in their teens (1959) and acted with their father in the company’s productions such as ‘Avvaiyar,’ ‘Desabakthi,’ ‘Chidambaranar,’ ‘Uyir Bali,’ ‘Sivakamiyin Sabadham,’ ‘Thamizh Selvan,’ etc. Both graduated in science subjects and were employed but after a point of time relinquished their jobs to devote time to drama. Both have won awards for their superb acting skills. ‘Raja Raja Chozhan,’ ‘VOC’ were revived and the duo staged new productions too. These included ‘Nandini,’ a story based on Kalki Krishnamurthi’s ‘Ponniyin Selvan’ (2004) and ‘Paandiya Magudam’ (2007).

Kalaivanan is a traditionally trained classical vocalist, who specialises in Tamil compositions, and Pugazhendi a composer with AIR since 1986. Social plays ‘Avvai Dasan’ and ‘Mudhiyor Kaapagam’ and skits to propagate the messages of the State Government underlined their versatility and earned them titles, including ‘Nataka Thamizh Maamani’ and ‘Nataka Selvam.’

The revival of TKS’s plays has an interesting background. In 1995, when the eighth Tamil World Conference took place at Thanjavur, J. Jayalalithaa, then Chief Minister, was keen that a play on Raja Raja Chola should be staged and wanted the TKS version. She asked the then Iyal Isai Nataka Mandram secretary, R.S. Manohar, to ensure that the TKS family was involved so that the flavour was not lost. By making the Nadigar Sangam premises available for rehearsals, Manohar gave Pugazhendi and Kalaivanan vital support. ‘Raja Raja Chozhan’ was staged in all its original grandeur with Kalaivanan and Pugazhendi playing Rajendra Chozha and Vimaladitha respectively. The play enjoyed an overwhelming response. In 1996, the same play made into a TV serial of 13 episodes was aired by Podhigai channel.

In 2002, when Devaneya Paavaanar’s centenary was celebrated by the Federation of Tamil Associations in North America (FETNA), the brothers were invited to stage ‘Raja Raja Chozhan’ at Chicago, Washington, Atlanta and Connecticut in the U.S. and at Toronto in Canada.

In 2004, “Archival recording” by Prasar Bharati, AIR, gave them an opportunity to give their best voice modulations for their father’s famous plays such as ‘Bilhanan,’ ‘Avvaiyar,’ ‘Siddhar Magal,’ ‘Ratha Pasam,’ ‘Amaichar Madhurakavi’ and ‘Raja Raja Chozhan.’

The brothers cherish the experience of presenting in 2010, ‘Raja Raja Chozhan’ as part of the festival that marked 1,000 years of the Big Temple.

“Staging plays is not remunerative and it is done for the love of theatre. Historical plays are costly affairs and need the support of sponsors,” say Kalaivanan and Pugazhendi. The latter has assumed the responsibility of organising the plays. Help from Iyal Isai Nataka Manram will go a long way in keeping the rich theatre tradition alive, they feel.

Story of a valiant warrior

The historical ‘Vaengai Maarban’ is an adaptation of R.C. Thamizhanban’s novel, ‘Paandiya Magudam,’ which won a cash prize of Rs. 2,000 for the best book, awarded by the then Chief Minister MGR in 1985.

It is all about the rivalry between two Pandya rulers, Parakrama and Kulasekara, which keeps Tamil Nadu divided. The situation is exploited by the Ceylon army chief Vikrama Bahu, who fans the flames. The efforts of lieutenant Vaengai Maarban to unite the two kings for the sake of the State fail and both show him the door. The valiant warrior, however, knows how to save his land from the plotting Vikrama Bahu.

First staged as ‘Paandiya Magudam’ at the Devakottai Sivan temple in 2003 thanks to the support of M.A.M. Ramaswamy, the play with the new title, ‘Vaengai Maarban,’ was enacted at the Brahma Gana Sabha drama festival in 2012. Kalaivanan and Pugazhendi played Vikrama Bahu and Vaengai Maarban.

On January 4, Thyaga Brahma Gana Sabha presented the play that was well received. It is yet another milestone in the journey of the brothers, who are looking forward to patronage, only which will keep the troupe’s flag flying. Will sabhas respond?