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Outdated ideas, antiquated scenes

"Anbin Uravugal"... beaten track.

IN VARIOUS permutations and combinations, this theme is played out again and again in mainstream Tamil theatre. The conflict in familial relationships — between father and son, mother-in-law and daughter-in-law and among brothers. And of course the Montague-Capulet like feud between the families of two young people in love. The situations are developed through the clashes and misunderstandings that take place. But invariably everything turns out right at the end. Copious tears of regret are shed with the patriarch of the family, who is usually considered infallible, flashing forgiving smiles or delivering a long speech on the need for togetherness and understanding. The plot is apparently resolved to the satisfaction of the playwright. But what about the rather discerning viewer? Mali's Stage presentation "Anbin Uravugal" (story and screenplay by K.S.N. Sundar), which was directed by Mali, was right on the groove. As playwright, Sundar has often managed to measure up to the stature of his now octogenarian father K. S. Nagarajan, founder of Kala Nilayam, who is dedicated to mainstream Tamil theatre. Some of Sundar's previous productions on personality and ego clashes have been worth viewing because he keeps the tensions going through sharp dialogue and three dimensional characters. This time his touch seems to have deserted him. Outdated ideas and antiquated scenes awaited the spectator. In many Tamil plays, you can close your eyes and visualise the first scene:

It is Friday morning. Traditional middle-aged housewife, fresh from her bath, towel wrapped around newly washed hair, steps into the living room, puja tray in hand. Husband holding the newspaper, looks up brightly, satisfied that tradition is being observed. Looks even more smug when wife falls at his feet and rattles off her dialogue about how important it is to seek his blessings every Friday morning.

With a beginning like this followed by the wife's lament that her daughter, a doctor in the U.S., calls her husband by name, you feel you are as far as could be from the computer age. The element of novelty is presumably introduced by the inversion of the usual plot of wicked son and daughter-in-law turning the old father out of the home. Here it is the father Ramaswamy (G. Ganesh), mulish and egoistic, insisting that his recently married son Shankar (Kavin) leave his house and fend for himself. The reason is that Ramaswamy, having slaved for his son and daughter for a lifetime, wants to live unencumbered, for himself and his obedient wife Lakshmi (Anandhi). Shankar desperately wants to stay on, motivated both by his love for his parents and his reluctance to leave the security of their home. And so does his devoted bride, Bhanu (Ramya Balachander). We are then witness to the scenes of Shankar trying to manage on his own supported by Bhanu who sells her jewellery to set him up in business! Her timid widower father, Jayaraman (Ramkumar), has to bear the ire of both the couples when he tries to negotiate a truce. Lakshmi gives vent to her maternal grief through sarcastic lines thrown at her husband from time to time. After her hopes of having a grandchild are dashed, she angrily tells her husband a few home truths about himself to applause from the audience. He promptly has a heart attack.

As expected, this brings about the grand reconciliation and everyone, including the mouse-like Jayaraman is delirious with joy. On and off, Sabapathi Pillai (Nawab Govindarajan), a friend of Ramaswamy, visits his home to share his experiences as a father of two sons and apparently acts as a foil to the protagonist.

Ganesh as the head of the house hams away to his heart's content, his gestures and expressions obviously modelled on a late thespian of Tamil cinema. Anandhi, as usual, turns in a neat but emotional performance while the artiste who plays her son is adequate. So is Ramya, the wide- eyed daughter-in-law, except that she seems determined to twist the pallu of her sari into coils of nervousness in every scene.

Hackneyed devices such as the couples being spotlighted in turn while in conversation detracted from the director's skills. It seems difficult to break away from familiar techniques. Significantly, the play staged under the auspices of Kalarasana at the Rani Seethai hall had won the playwright the award for the best story at the recent drama festival held by the Nataka Academy.


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