ANAND HARIDAS

The solo play ‘Soorpanakha’ attempts to interpret a popular story in the modern context and highlights the plight of the displaced.

‘Soorpanakha,’ a play based on Sarah Joseph’s short story ‘Thaikulam,’ was an attempt to interpret a popular story in a new context.

“History is constantly on the move, as a population continues its search for identity. It keeps changing. This demands that epics be reinterpreted and not repeated. Usually, there are no interventions into these epics in the light of modern realities,” said Sarah Joseph. She was talking to the audience that filled the Changampuzha Park, Edappally, to watch the play ‘Soorpanakha.’

Scripted and directed by Ullas Mavilayi, the play was a solo act featuring Pradeep Chittoor. It took off from the story of Soorpanakha, sister of King Ravana, after she was mutilated by Lakshmana as punishment for her advances towards Rama.

But there were different strands of narrative in the visual sub-text of the play. Visuals of recent Adivasi struggles, police action and displacement of people for development projects were projected on a screen while Kadamanitta Ramakrishnan’s renowned poem on subaltern politics, ‘Kurathi,’ was played as sound track.

“I had concentrated on the issue of those who are losing their roots. The plight of the displaced is the same, all through history,” said Ullas Mavilayi, a product of the School of Drama, Thrissur.

The duration of the play, just over 40 minutes, looked a bit short for handling so deep a subject. The character was swinging to and fro between her feminine (and softer) sensibilities and her warrior instincts to defend her tribe.

Political overtones

According to Sarah Joseph, Lakshmana’s mutilation of Soorpanakha had political overtones that could have an impact on the survival of the next generation. She felt that Rama’s intervention in the dispute between Bali and Sugreeva, which eventually led to his killing of Bali was an act of aggression against a population that did not have sophisticated weapons.

The politics of the displaced and the pain of the woman whose love is rejected, however, were at odds with the structure of the play and did not blend well. While Pradeep Chittoor displayed remarkable consistency in maintaining a warrior woman’s gait all through the play, his movement on the stage was often hampered by too many properties, some of which were unnecessary.

Language of the character

The language in which Soorpanakha, a demon princess, communicates with Rama, the prince of Ayodhya, was a matter of concern for Sarah Joseph, when she thought of writing the story. The director of the play also had the same confusion, it seems.

When the play opened, the soundtrack had the Sanskrit verse “yatra naryastu pojyante, thatra remante devata…” (Gods exist, where women are honoured). This was also the opening line for Soorpanakha, though she speaks a language that is almost colloquial slang for the rest of the play.

But attempts like this are relevant, as Sarah Joseph said, for a generation lost in cyber fantasies. We need to revisit our epics but against the back drop of contemporary realities. Despite certain flaws in its execution, the play was relevant for the questions it raised.