The folk arts get a new lease of life with Muttram, an association formed by students

“The first time we tried the kuchiaatam, we just ended up hitting each other,” laughs Monisha Mohandas, a member of Muttram. “It's a dance of defence where someone raises a stick and you block it. But we were just learning them, so the sticks were going off in different directions.”

Muttram, a theatre group formed by 20 students of the Mass Communication Department in Madras University, has been practising folk arts and socially relevant street theatre since November 2009, when it was started under the mentorship of G. Ravindran, the head of department.

“Muttram means a courtyard. In a traditional Tamil household, the courtyard holds an important place. It's where all the natural elements come to play — fresh air, water during rain — and it was also a place for the joint family to gather and have a place of conversation,” says Ravindran. “Here, the group tries to extend learning beyond classrooms. It imparts important life, social and communication skills to its members. I believe learning can never be restricted to the classroom.”

Muttram has performed in universities in the South and also at the Mylapore festival 2010. They have been invited to perform at the festival next year too. The group specialises in dying folk dances, and street plays about social topics such as child labour.

“We're a multi-faceted group who sings, dances and performs skits. In the beginning, our lecturers helped with the scripts. Another folk arts specialist trained us in kombattam and kuchiaatam. But now, we do everything ourselves. We sit around, brainstorm and script plays in a day or two and practise for a couple of weeks before the show. Our scripts change according to the issue plaguing a particular place,” says V. Geethapriya, another member.

The group has also performed at Periyar University, at a Japanese workshop conducted in collaboration with Nanzan University and, recently, at a media seminar in Salem.

“It's been a pleasant surprise to see Muttram blossom. When the students performed in Salem, it was attended by delegates from all over the country and we've received many offers to send our students to other universities to teach them. These folk arts are slowly dying; it works better when students try to promote it, rather than professionals,” explains Ravindran.

Venugopal, a student that the college has taken in specialises in folk arts and has been training Muttram in these traditional dances. Apart from them, he also performs the paraiaatam, which gets its name from the drum or parai that is used.

“If you can get a professional as a student to teach them, there's nothing like it. Venu is a performing artiste but he's also a student on our campus. That way, we're giving social recognition to a folk performer, thereby honouring him and recognising his art. That is what Muttram is about. It's a platform for artistes to share ideas,” stresses Ravindran.

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