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A close look at Death

"Maha Nirvanam" ... exciting and different.

BRILLIANTLY SATIRICAL and sparkling with humour, Satish Alekar's ``Maha Nirvan" deals with Death, that most fascinating subject. A corpse that is desperate and cries out to be cremated properly, his wife who is looking for a companion even before he is burnt, their son who is eager to fulfil both their wishes, curious neighbours to whom the ceremonies connected with death are an occasion for socialising and crows that refuse to comply to make the last rites complete — all these go to make for a scathing yet humorous critique of society, rituals and human nature. Satish Alekar's Marathi play has been staged more than 150 times since it was first performed in Pune in 1973.

The National School of Drama, New Delhi, held a month long workshop in association with Nataka Veli, Chennai, from mid June in the city. This culminated in the staging of the play translated into Tamil by the late K.V. Ramaswamy.

Directed by NSD associate lecturer K. S. Rajendran (assistant director: M. George), ``Maha Nirvanam" was presented recently to an overflowing auditorium at the Alliance Francaise. Although it is good to see such a massive turn out, it is time for all those connected with the arts to think seriously of not only supportive but also spacious venues in the city for staging plays. To sit crammed like sardines (or is it crows in this context) for a show is not the best way to appreciate it.

This is a text that translates beautifully as a visual and dramatic presentation. It deals with death at different levels — the social, psychological and the emotional. The words take on their own contours and pulsate with humour and satire. The writer is predominant but the director, without minimising the total impact of the text, had lent his own vision to it.

Smooth flow

The Tamil translation by Ramaswamy places the Marathi work squarely in the Tamil milieu. By selecting apt folk songs and tunes to replace the Marathi kirtans, Rajendran had made sure that the play flowed smoothly. The elements of farce and realism were spun together credibly.

It seemed quite natural that the dear departed discuss his death, hide in the loft or accompany his son to the crematorium all the while commenting on the proceedings. This includes the corruption and the commercial aspects that have become associated with death and cremation.

The play ends with the vettiyan (Vidhun in an amusing cameo) who is prepared to do it in the black for a couple of thousands.

Bharathimani as the protagonist Viswanathan who agonises that he is decaying and yet the cremation is delayed, took the audience along in a performance that showed that he had got into the soul of the character. His experience in sixty years of theatre showed in his vintage performance. But more rehearsal was called for as he stumbled in delivering the lines in more than one place.

With aplomb

Rajeshwari as his initially grieving and later wandering wife Sarasu smitten with the charms of ``the man in the black coat and glasses" handled a difficult role with aplomb. She has a range of emotions — disbelief, grief or bashfulness — that come on like the flick of a switch.

T. V. Sridharan as Suresh, the couple's son who rises to the occasion whether in trying to locate the man his mother is fascinated with or in dealing with his father's disconcerting appearances or disappearances, conducted himself with sang froid. The workshop participants, through their songs and movements and the sincerity with which they approached their work energised the play.

``Maha Nirvanam" offered the Chennai audience an opportunity to view an acclaimed Marathi work. Though it was clearly a workshop production in places, overall it was exciting and different. Not only because the text took such a searching look at the different facets of the inevitable end but also because the director and cast had infused it with energy and fitted it neatly into the local milieu. This applied to the costume as well.


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