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Caught in a time warp

The 10-day Kartik Fine Arts Summer Festival of Drama was hardly inspiring, says KAUSALYA SANTHANAM.

A scene form "Pramadham" ... loosely put together.

ARE THE audiences returning to mainstream Tamil theatre? It would seem so judging from the almost full hall at the Kartik Fine Arts Summer Festival of Drama held recently at the

R. R. Sabha.

The ten-day event had established local troupes as well as theatre groups of the Telephones Department and the Secretariat perform, not to forget those from other cities.

But did the fare justify the turnout? The three plays chosen at random by this writer had nothing worthwhile to offer. One was a weepy affair with the ostensible aim of championing the cause of women; the second was a comedy in a lacklustre style, while the third was so verbose it left you gasping for breath. The large turnout did not evidently inspire productions that were significant and new.

`Gurukulam' is a troupe, which in recent years has been presenting plays that are well scripted and directed. Though the themes deal with the usual middle class problems such as the ordeal faced in building a house or the tension generated by family conflicts, the plays usually engage your attention.

But watching "Ini... Erantha Kalam" was like taking a bullock cart ride backwards in Time. The heroine was that stock figure, the object of pity and humiliation, seen in films and plays more than 30 years ago — the unwed mother. The rescuer here is the `noble' husband who unaware of `her condition' marries the heroine and then ever so generously decides to forgive her.

But he is at pains to tell her she is his wife only in name.

The paragon of virtue and sacrifice brings up her son as his own; then the biological father who is presumed dead turns up. The foster father's nobility develops a crack and he decides to reveal all to the college going son. And the mother goes through the process of being spurned once more.

Through the long speech by the real father at the end of the play to convince his son that his mother is "more sinned against than sinning," the playwright sought to make the point that women are at the receiving end in a chauvinistic society. But the story on which the idea was pegged was obsolete.

The tragic end only exacerbated it all. The woman had to pay the price — and it is nothing short of death. The heroine does not even have the satisfaction of being reconciled with her son finally. The story and dialogue were by S. Gowrishankar.

The lead actresss (Malathi Sampath), her unhappy father (S. Gowrishankar) and her lover (Viswanathan Ramesh), acted well though there was the usual incongruity in portraying a couple well into middle age as young lovers. The only part of the play, which touched an emotional chord, was the depiction of the son's trauma when the truth is revealed.

The dialogue and direction (M. Bhoovaraha Moorthy) ensured that the viewer remained in his seat. But Gurukulam better put on its thinking cap to come up with something less outdated than "Ini... Erantha Kalam" as the next effort.

"Pramadham" by Rail Priya was a set of scenes put together to generate humour of a sort. There was no theme to speak of and the unstructured play just swung from one scene to another making no point other than eliciting a few weak laughs.

The bond between two inseparable friends and the interaction between their offspring was what the play was about. Their bond seems further strengthened when the photographer son Pattabhi (Ananthu), who does not have much of an income, of one friend and the young daughter Priya (Hema) of the other, fall in love and get married. Fortune comes in the shape of the staccato utterance talent scout Guru.

He makes Pattabhi a renowned photographer and the marriage is soon on the rocks as Pattabhi hardly gets a moment with his wife. His brother (Siva) and brother-in-law (Satish) are great friends and they provide some semblance of humour during the progress of the play. Finally, things turn out fine with Velamma, (Srimathi) the family maid, another stock figure, doing her bit to bring about a rapprochement between the couple.

Amateur troupes need to take the structuring of their plays seriously if they want to make a mark. "Pramadham," written and directed by Ananthu, frequently goes off the rails. The only point made is that mutual adjustment and compromise are necessary for a marriage to succeed and that young housewives cannot expect their husbands to spend time with them at the cost of their career and still expect to be provided with every comfort.

But the point had no validity with a hero who goes berserk when he is out on his photographic jaunts and to blame his wife when he flirts so outrageously seems illogical. But then logic is not the guiding motif of "Pramadham" which, though harmless and inoffensive in its content, far from justified its title.

"Rukmini-Sathyabhama" by the KRS troupe from Coimbatore appeared to have one aim, and that was to project the garrulity of the middle-aged hero. Tamil troupes have discovered that the sets of a temple make for an impressive beginning for a play. So we have here as the first scene a wedding set in a temple. If the bride is supposed to be young, then a total suspension of disbelief is called for. The couple as soon as they are married are separated by the groom's demand for dowry.

Same temple scene — a few months later. The worshipper, who is there with his daughter, a child of five, has a heart attack. The heroine and her father take the girl and the widower father back home. Along with `comic' scenes, one has to witness the recovery of the protagonist only to have him launch at the least provocation, into long monologues on anything concerning the country — Mahatma Gandhi, corruption, the caste system, the fall in values...

All the while he expresses the view that it is good his daughter Thamizh, who is bereft of the sense of hearing, cannot know what is happening around her. Such lack of sensitivity this!

The heroine's role is confined to listen to him haranguing. It speaks much for the calibre of the actress (G. Shyamala) that she manages even though her smile and silence fail to make an impact. Waving his hands and striking a pose, the protagonist goes on and on.

Suddenly, the play switches to Malayalam, thanks to a flashback. We are witness to the past of the hero through the tale of his marriage. A bit of "Jane Eyre" comes in with the hero discovering on the day of his marriage that his wife is mad.

The play must have gone on, one supposes, to what was outlined in the synopsis given to this writer.

The adorable little girl was the best part of the play. It was refreshing to watch a child act her age.

Discerning theatre-goers had a good word for "Swayambu" and "Koothadi" also seemed to be based on a novel theme. But the writer was not able to view them. Sabhas such as the Kartik Fine Arts, the Krishna Gana Sabha and the Nataka Academy take pains to organise theatre festivals.

But this random selection and the plays seen from time to time in various sabhas give one the feeling that mainstream theatre, like the helpless heroine in a fairy tale, is under a spell of a time gone by and is unable to break free and move on.

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