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Slapdash stuff that serves no purpose

"Iruvar" ... indifferent show. — Pic. by K. Pichumani.

PAREEKSHA PRESENTED "Iruvar" — three short plays with just two characters in each — on August 10, at the Dr. MGR Janaki College of Arts and Sciences for Women. This was the sixth in a series of monthly programmes being held by the group through the year to celebrate its 25th anniversary.

Two plays dealing with the man-woman relationship and one centring on the debate between the material and spiritual were featured. All the plays were directed — what little there was to do in this department — by the respective artistes themselves.

In ``Nigazha Marutha Arputham," adapted from a short story by Dilip Kumar, the man (R. K. Ramanathan) watches in anguish as his wife (Kalpana) of 28 years picks up her bags to leave him forever. A complete picture of their life together emerges through his almost lyrical monologue. Past incidents and emotions are painted in vivid imagery. The underlying cause of his violent behaviour and alcoholism is his impotency that has made their life so meaningless and empty. As he conjures up the loneliness that lies ahead for them both in their old age and the manner in which loneliness can be halved when shared, she reacts at last and comes to him.

The scene was a finely spun web of words in which the wife had little to do but look on. Kalpana managed, with her downcast head or enquiring gaze, to do her part. Ramanathan, on whom the burden of the work rested, was indistinct. His expressions suited the context but what is the point of a play, which rests on words, if the lead actor's voice is muffled? ``Sarala" was much better. Written by Sujatha, the play was read by A. S. Padmavathi and Vimal. But so well did they empathise with the characters that it seemed an enacted work and not a reading. Sujatha's sensitive pen makes for a quiet and powerful defence of women who are subject to the domination of the male not just through physical violence but by the snuffing out of their individuality.

Sarala comes to her older sister's home seeking refuge from domestic violence. But her sister rejects her not wishing to be disturbed from her cocoon of domesticity and docile role as wife and mother. Sarala is rebellious and questioning and her ``Akka" will have none of it. But slowly as they recall their childhood days and are flooded by memories of their loving parents and happy home, they begin to bond. Only to part as each takes up the heavy mantle of wife and the code that society has placed upon them.


One actor who identified with his role and the other who stumbled his way through it, made for an unlikely combination in ``Iyanthira Thudaippaan," by Sundara Ramaswami . The artiste (Ashok) who read the part of the salesman who sells machines was unfamiliar with the script and it showed. He enters into a dialogue with a godman and this throws up a revealing picture of life on the other side. G. Vaidyananthan was the godman who feels imprisoned in his role as head of a Math with everyone selfishly pouring his/her basketful of woes on his lap. His every action is programmed by the trustees and the only thing that keeps him going is the memory of a girl with bright eyes and a joyful smile. The import of the dialogue, which dealt with the spiritual and the material, was lost in the `salesman's reading and the audience was as relieved as he when it was all over. The viewer felt sympathy for the godman whose attire and voice suited the role.

Pareeksha must be applauded for presenting a play or a set of playlets every month. Their commitment to the theatre is unquestionably sincere. But certain areas need to be addressed.

As the organisers themselves seem to be aware, the enormous auditorium of the college does not provide the right ambience for the plays they choose to stage. These works require a space that creates intimacy and not a feeling of alienation. The mini hall of the Narada Gana Sabha auditorium that used to be the venue many years ago helped provide the right mood.

Moreover, it would be much better to do a few plays well than many in this slapdash manner. Whatever be the constraints the group faces, it owes it to viewers to present professionally mounted works with a backup cast to step in, in case of an emergency. The rates are not the criterion, the presentation is. It is highly disappointing to be suddenly told that this would be a play reading and not as announced earlier and then have artistes fumbling through their lines. The ugly, stained walls of the auditorium as the backdrop to the reading are an eyesore but an effort could have been made to cover them up. Props can be minimal but certainly not as skeletal and shabby as the two plastic chairs, the faded mat and the rough packing cases that were put together hastily here.

It is time the group took stock at this half way mark and makes up its mind whether one good production is not worth half a dozen mediocre ones. For in the ultimate analysis, who wants to make the effort to drive or bus down all the way on a Sunday evening for indifferently presented works when you can do the reading — perhaps much better — by yourself in a much more pleasant ambience at home?


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