THEATREThe ardent theatre lovers are back. ‘Bombay' Chanakya is the writer and director of Shraddha's next presentation, ‘Madras to Chennai.'

MALATHI RANGARAJAN

As Shraddha gears up for a four-day show of its new play ‘Madras to Chennai' on May 27, 28, 29 and 30, 7 p.m., at Narada Gana Sabha, Alwarpet, I catch up with the group. At the serious practice session, I notice a palpable mood ofjoie de vivre running parallel.

Shivaji Chaturvedi, one of its founding members, prefers to call Shraddha, a movement – not a troupe! The distinct method in Shraddha's madness (read passion) has seen them make quite a mark on the city's proscenium in less than a year!

‘Madras to Chennai' is popular stage and small screen writer, ‘Bombay' Chanakya's brainchild. He is seated in the middle reading out the dialogue, and surrounding him is the cast listening intently. Among them is Kathadi Ramamurthy.

“He is a veteran, yet he goes by my suggestions,” smiles Chanakya. “After all he's the director,” Kathadi replies. And in typical style adds, “But he's included a couple of quaint English words in my dialogue. I plan to quietly do away with them! Only that with Chanakya it isn't easy.”

“He's right! I'm very particular that my lines aren't changed at all. The nuances could get lost,” Chanakya contends.

“But Kathadi can get away with anything. The other day on stage, by mistake he said, ‘Papaiah Solomon' instead of the other way round, and the crowd only found it funny!” quips Shivaji. “And he's a past master at improvisations.”

“The audience's reactions and the high they give are factors that keep me going,” observes Kathadi.

But how is it that Kathadi is a constant in all the three plays of Shraddha – ‘Dhanushkodi', ‘Dhoosra' and now ‘Madras to Chennai'?

“Chanakya's choice,” says Shivaji. “As you know, Shraddha doesn't interfere with the casting. It's purely the director's decision.”

“Yes! And his role is something very different from the ones he's played so far,” Chanakya responds, as Kathadi interrupts, “Don't hype up expectations. Let people come, watch and decide.”

It's not just Kathadi. Swamy, Girish and a few others who played significant parts in ‘Dhoosra' are in ‘Madras …' too.

Mighty cast

“The play has 21 characters, and big or small, each is important,” informs Chanakya. The other rarity is that ‘Madras to Chennai' has six female actors! Generally, it's two at the most. “The story spans four generations. When we are tracing the economic, political and cultural changes of half a century we need many characters,” Chanakya explains.

Serious stuff? “Surely it isn't a flippant take of the times. I've researched a lot for the period feel. But it has its lighter moments,” he says. “And at no point will the play be judgmental.”

Chanakya has roped in Suchitra Ravi, an actor with Bombay Gnanam's troupe, Kalyani Natarajan from Mumbai, and Shylaja, a familiar small screen face. Shylaja has worked with K. Balachander's Min Bimbangal. That was when she expressed her wish to act under Chanakya's direction. “The audience response to Tamil theatre has always irked me. So when I read about Shraddha inThe HinduI was thrilled. And then Chanakya offered me a role,” smiles Shyalaja.

Daughter Mridula plays the young Shylaja. “She's in her first year of college. ‘Madras …' is proving to be a rewarding experience.”

Invitations for the play are just a buzz away. So contact 98402 08583; 2827 2655 between 8.30 a.m. and 1 p.m.; 3 p.m. and 6.30 p.m. “We have people calling up after it's all over and asking when we plan to stage the play again. The point is we don't. We just move on to our next project,” says Shivaji.

Thus besides the quality, the USP of Shraddha is that the number of shows is curtailed to four. But the invites are free! So what are you waiting for?