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The voices did not reach out

Though visually appealing, Koothu-p-pattarai's production based on `Panchali Sabadam' did not capture the beauty and force of Subramania Bharati's writing. KAUSALYA SANTHANAM reviews...

A typical Koothu-p-pattarai fare...

"I HAVE visualised `Panchali Sabadam' through the voice. The voice creates imagery and leads the body into movement. In its physical form it becomes the take-off point to craft a soundscape that would have a story to tell. I conducted a workshop for the Koothu-p-pattarai Trust in 2002 on synchronising voice and the movements of the body. `Vidai Thedum Kuralgal Mudiyadha Kundhal... ' based on Subramania Bharati's `Panchali Sabadam' is the result of the workshop," said Anjana Puri who directed the play that was staged at the Alliance Francaise for five days recently.

Featuring 18 artistes of the Koothu-p-pattarai and three musicians, the production was presented jointly by the Alliance Francaise and the theatre group. Anjana, a post graduate in Hindustani music, who has composed for the plays of the Rang Vidushak theatre group at Bhopal, was also in charge of the makeup and costume for "Vidai Thedum Kuralgal... "

Anjana, whose mother is a Tamilian, was inspired by the Hindi translation of Bharati's soul-stirring work by Anandhi Ramanathan which was published by the Sahitya Academy. Anjana does not know Tamil. "But this did not pose a problem," she said. "Three accents are woven into the play: Bharati's Tamil, the literary Tamil of the chorus and the colloquial Tamil of the Kattiakaran or the Sutradhar. The chorus forms a human curtain that illustrates the enactment between the characters of the story."

"Bharati wrote this at a time when India was fighting for Independence. It is important for us to remember the context in which Bharati wrote the work and realise the nuances present throughout," pointed out Na. Muthuswamy to this correspondent before the performance. "The freshness and the truth of a work such as this tends to get submerged over a period of time and we tend to view it mechanically; it becomes mere entertainment.

How can the freshness be retained? This is a question that has to be raised in the theatre. Do the actors realise the intensity of the writing and relate to the poet's experience?"

It was with a sense of much anticipation that one waited for the show to begin. The viewer was not disappointed either for this was a visually arresting version of the great work, a production such as not often seen on the Tamil theatre scene. The actors made an entry to the rhythmic sounds of the percussion instruments punctuated by the occasional tinkle of the bell.

The costume of off-white tunics and red turbans and sashes in the Maharashtrian mode created a pan Indian atmosphere. "This could happen anywhere, it is not just the voice of a woman but of a human being today in Iraq, Gujarat or Kashmir," the director had said in her short introduction to the production.

The faces were painted in vivid colours of green, red and cream to denote the nature of the characters. But when the actors began speaking their lines, it was typical Koothu-p-pattarai. The description of Hastinapura and of the grandeur of the court was followed by the angry Duryodhana seeking Shakuni's help to bring about the downfall of the Kauravas. His uncle's wily scheming leads to the game of dice, the humiliation that Panchali is subjected to and her terrible oath that she will not bind her hair till her humiliation is avenged.

The performance was loud and despite the exciting visual presentation, the colour, the choreography of the movements and the music inherent in the words, it was a narration of Draupadi Vastraharanam seen many times before.

The force of Bharati's poetry, which stuns one with the power and the beauty of words, was not in evidence. Though the actors put in an effort, the soul of the characters seemed to evade them. Duryodanan's (D. Prakash) evil was most blatant and so too the reactions of Shakuni (V. Baskar). There was no suggestion or subtlety in the characterisation. Viduran (N. Suresh) rushed through his long speech and appeared relieved he had delivered it in one piece though it was crucial to the play and appealed for sanity and justice.

The Pandavas under Dharman (T. P. Anand) managed to scrape through. N. Chandra vainly tried to realise the tumultuous emotions of the wronged Panchali. One has seen better from Chandra and in the final fiery oath taking, the crux of the play, her voice turned so screechy and emotional that the words were lost. Her lament became wearisome instead of arousing empathy.

Movements and agility have always been Koothu-p-pattarai's strength, not words. In this production, there was a tangible excitement in viewing the formations on the stage but the words of the poet, immeasurably moving, wonderfully powerful and cadenced, just did not come through to give rise to a cathartic experience. The chorus was not a happy interjection and the extremely colloquial Tamil diluted the grandeur of the poetry. The introduction to the play where an artiste read from a paper was unforgivable as he stumbled over the simplest of words, an avoidable bad beginning for a production that deserved much better.

The red shawls the characters wore were turned ingenuously into screens at many places breaking the stage into a number of levels of action. The movements and stance of the characters inspired by Chau and other performing art forms such as puppetry were stylistic and sometimes lyrical. Lighting by C. Raveendran was effective and so was the music.

For Koothu-p-pattarai, this was a noteworthy production in terms of costume, presentation and form. In fact the play which provided quite a spectacle deserved a much larger auditorium than that at the AF. But despite the director's imaginative conceptualisation, the actors grappling with the text seemed to have literally bitten off more than they could chew.

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