THEATRE Aggressive poster wars, quite commonplace in South, find an echo in ‘Chumar Pathrangal'. DIWAN SINGH BAJELI
P oster wars resorted by rival political parties in Tamil Nadu in recent decades have influenced the opinion of the people about political and social issues. Over the years, the war has become colourful and more aggressive. ‘Chumar Pathrangal' by N.A. Muthuswamy, which was presented by school of Drama and Fine Arts, University of Calicut, Kerala in S. Sunil's Malayalam translation from the original in Tamil, at the recent Bharat Rang Mahotsav at Shri Ram Centre, was a serious attempt to unmask the real face of those who resort to such a war.
Unconventional both in form and narrative structure, it has a dynamic flow of uninterrupted action. The performers in colourful costumes create visuals which are attractive. The intensely frenzied movements of the dramatis personae reveal their inner motives through encounters with rival group. They have no social cause to espouse or any political ideology to propagate. Their only objective is to perpetuate the larger than life image of their leaders.
At another level, it highlights the danger in owning mass media by unscrupulous political leaders. The poster war is now including in its armoury all modern means of mass communication to divert the attention of the people from social conflicts and antagonism. Other players like religious leaders and cinema stars have also entered this war. The party which owns more means of mass communication and has militant cadre to launch it movement in an aggressive way, is able to control state power.
The play has been directed by K.S. Rajendran, a senior faculty member of National School of Drama. A fine director, he has deep grounding in Sanskrit classical theatre and theatre of the Dravidian movement and worked with Kooth-p-Pattarai, a renowned theatre repertory based in Chennai. He has shown directorial artistry admirably while handling plays belonging to different genres, including theatre of the absurd. Ranjendran presented this play 25 years ago at Shri Ram Centre, featuring among others Attakkalari Jayachandran and Purisai Sambandam who have now become acclaimed dancer-actors. At that time the production was without words, depending on the actor-dancers body language to convey the content of the play. The production this time uses words as an expressive means. The stylised movements based on classical dance forms of Kerala like Kathakali and Koodiyattam are means to overcome language barrier and to impart lyrical rhythm to the production transforming it into a contemporary political metaphor.
The style of presentation is drawn from physical theatre with emphasis on group improvisation. There is remarkable fluidity in the movements of groups of participants. The colours of the costumes are drawn from the party flags of the dominant political parties of Tamil Nadu. The way the rival groups confront each other reflects political antagonism. At times one group merges with another, indicating the formation of another opportunistic alliance to capture power.
A number of panels are placed on the stage plastered with variety of posters to be replaced soon by the posters of another leader by his followers. The groups at times become aggressive and at another a bit mellow, reflecting the stance of their leaders towards their rivals. In their frenzied attempt to make their leader's image larger than life, they keep on raising the height of the panel to paste the poster of their leader with a view to make the image of the rival leaders dwarfish. The slogans like “I am Zindabad, you are Murdabad” perpetuate the idea of philistinism and narcissism. In the midst of this chaos there stands the character of Sutradhar who is harassed and tries to offer a link between the trivial and the aesthetic.
The production this time uses words as an expressive means.