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Lost in the land

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Children of toil: A scene from ‘ Valley Song.'
Children of toil: A scene from ‘ Valley Song.'

MANU REMAKANT

‘Valley Song,' directed by P.A.M. Rasheed, is an adaptation of South African writer Athol Fugard's play of the same name.

The tale of an old farmer's bond with the land, told against the background of rapid progress and ambitious people, became an unforgettable experience for theatre enthusiasts at the Vyloppilly Samskriti Bhavan in Thiruvananthapuram.

Although the tale is set in post-Apartheid South Africa, certain stories, however much they are flavoured with local tastes, have universal appeal. The play ‘Valley Song,' originally conceived and directed by South African writer Athol Fugard, inspired veteran theatre artiste and director P.A.M. Rasheed to adapt it into Malayalam. The audience could virtually feel the pain that the main character, Puks, undergoes as he holds dear the land that he works on.

Johannesburg

As the play begins, we see the ‘white man' – the master – going to buy the property on which Puks works as a tenant farmer. The ‘white man' narrates the story and introduces Puks very dramatically. The old man has no world outside of his farm. But his granddaughter Veronica foresees one in Johannesburg. She dreams of a future in the city, a future in which she becomes a singer and a television celebrity. The television programmes that she watches in the neighbourhood become the only outlet for the girl who is tied to the land where nothing happens, nothing changes and nobody visits.

Her songs become a welcome comfort for Puks. But the name Johannesburg divides them. It resonates in a different frequency for the old man. He recalls how his daughter Catherine eloped to Johannesburg with a man who eventually cheated her.

When Puks breaks down in tears recounting how Catherine died leaving Veronica with him, the audience too could not but share his sorrow. There were many such poignant scenes throughout the play.

The audience could feel the tension building up between Puks and his granddaughter. It rises to such a level that they realise that it is not between individuals, but between two different attitudes to life. After the rain, while planting seeds in the fresh earth, Puks finds the meaning of his life. Whereas, Veronica comes to realise that it is in Johannesburg that her destiny lies. In the end Johannesburg becomes a symbol for both hope and ruin. It can build and destroy.

Kudos to the director then that he could narrate a poignant story with just three characters. The existential questions posed by the play continue to ring even after the performance. With minimalistic settings and evocative descriptions, Rasheed recreates the beauty and richness of the land that is the Sneeuberg Mountains of South Africa's great Karoo region, in this poignant tale of post-Apartheid life.

The struggle between the traditional and the modern is not only between characters, but it plays out in the mind too. “The theme has a universal appeal,” says Rasheed, “That is why I presented it as be a tribute to the great Athol Fugard who has influenced me in writing this play.”

Rasheed and Hima excelled as Puks and Veronica respectively. Arun Nair effectively portrayed the white man. The theme song, ‘Neeyente Hridayam thakarkum, Njan Pranayikkum Thazhvarame…' was brilliant. The play was presented by the Theatre of Good Hope, Thiruvananthapuram.


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