‘Kalyanikkuttiyum Sheelayum pranayathilanu…’ boldly questioned social mores and depicted the lives of people who choose to transgress those customs.
“You don’t need many things to live. All you need to make your life meaningful are an open window, fresh leaves in your flower vase, a book to meditate on, and a lover’s caring arm,” says a character in the play ‘Kalyanikkuttiyum Sheelayum pranayathilanu…’ But life is meaningless for Kalyanikkutti and Sheela, two characters culled from ‘Chandanamarangal,’ a story penned by the late writer Kamala Suraiyya.
‘Kalyanikkuttiyum…,’ which traced Malayali society’s attitude towards relationships among people of the same gender, was staged at Vylloppilli Samskriti Bhavan in the capital city.
Kozhikode-based Jisha sparkled and shone in the 40-minute solo performance that saw her breathe life into Kalyanikkutti and Sheela as well as Raziya and Amuda, characters from ‘Jalathiloode nadakkunna kanyakamaar,’ written by youngster Indu Menon.
The play tries to address the debate going on in the country in the wake of the Delhi High Court’s decision to decriminalise Article 377. As the play begins we see the celebrated writer sitting on a chair, contemplating on her characters. Soon she becomes the meek Sheela who gives up her life with Kalyanikkutti to don the role of a wife; a role thrust on her by society. Sheela reminisces how Kalyanikkutti used to talk about bringing up their child. Instead, she is forced to care for her child although her husband evokes in her hatred and revulsion.
The relationship between the women provokes society into separating them with an iron hand. Kalyanikkutti wants to rebel, but it is an impossible dream for the meek Sheela. It is then that the characters from Indu Menon’s story, Amuda and Raziya, meet the hapless Sheela. A pregnant Amuda who is carrying Raziya’s child asks Sheela: “Why couldn’t you do it ‘Chechi?”’ Sheela has no answer.
It was not just a character questioning another about the choices in her life; it was a dialogue between two different periods, throwing light on the change of attitudes as time goes by.
“In order to see the evolution of such themes in Malayalam literature, you have to begin from ‘Sthree,’ a short story by Kamala Das [Kamala Suraiyya] published in a weekly in 1947,” says P.C. Harish, the director of the play.
“The characters Ramani and Prasanna court death as they could not live together. In ‘Chandanamarangal’ the women are intimidated by society and are forced to part ways. As you reach Indu’s short story, the women were able to decide for themselves and marry. It is conditioning that makes us oppose such marriages,” asserts the director.
The women’s desperate efforts to search for an identity and a place in society were effectively portrayed by Jisha. Despite playing four different characters in 40 minutes, she was able to give individuality to each one.
Clever use of properties enhanced the drama. The play with blocks, window frames and a flower took the performance to symbolic levels. Jisha’s expressions and body language gave the characters depth and intensity.
N. Binod’s music accentuated the mood of the play, which was presented by Gadha Theater, Kozhikode.
The play was staged as a tribute to Kamala Suraiyya.