Theatre A hoary institution of the city, the Coimbatore Book Club Theatre Group, relives a grand old epic, Silappathikaram adapted into English by Kasthuri Sreenivasan, as The Anklet. Pankaja Srinivasan reports
I t is history revisited, in more ways than one. The Coimbatore Book Club Theatre Group staged its second play of the year, The Anklet. It is an adaptation of one of Tamil's most beloved epics, Silappathikaram. Written in verse by Ilango Adigal, a Cheran prince turned Jain mendicant, it is a burning story of love and terrible vengeance wrought by the virtuous Kannagi who curses the king and kingdom of Madurai for having unjustly accused and executed her husband Kovalan. It is part folklore and part historical account of life in the times of the Chola, Chera and the Pandya reigns.
The old world
It is history of another kind for people of Coimbatore who have lived here long enough, because Silappathikaram was adapted for an English stage version by one of Coimbatore's own, Kasthuri Sreenivasan. Titled The Anklet, it was staged for the first time in 1953, and subsequently there were a couple more play reading and play acting of The Anklet. The fiery Kannagi in the first production was played by Dinoo Hataria, who now at the age of 84 is the producer of the same play. The enthusiasm is undiminished, as Dinoo recalls the 50s. “We staged it for the Rotary Club, at the Shanmugham Theatres, in the poovu market area. And, a movie studio here provided us with all the props and costumes.” Dinoo says, with a hint of pride, “I remember the audience had tears as I played Kannagi.”
Many things have remained the same. In 1953 as well, Kirtilals was a sponsor, as it is for the 2010 production. “They gave each of the cast members an anklet as a memento,” says Dinoo.
Coming to the present, The Anklet proved to be as riveting as the audience waited eagerly for the familiar story to unfold and reach its terrible climax.
Chanda Khaturia as Kannagi was easily the star of the evening. Of course, she had all the plum lines. She convincingly portrayed the pride, anger, bitterness and hurt of one scorned by her husband, Kovalan (Subhash John) for the ‘other woman', a court dancer Madhavi, (Sonia Vikraman).
Monisha Mathur played an endearing Devanthi, faithful nurse and companion to Kannagi.
Getting the act together
The costumes were bright, the jewellery glittered and the stage props were elaborate. There were three acts set in the boudoir of a well to do merchant's wife, a cowherd's hut, and a queen's chambers, respectively.
“We ran pillar to post getting the sets organised,” says Shashi Ghulati the irrepressible director of the play. “We chose this play as Coimbatore has just hosted the World Tamil Conference. What better than The Anklet to celebrate the rich Tamil literary tradition.” Shashi Ghulati has been the leading light of productions of the theatre group. The cast and crew recount how she worked day and night to bring the play to life.
In her own words, “I have bullied everyone here,” she smiles. But, no one minds. “Only Shashi aunty could have orchestrated all of us,” they say. Indeed, for the cast comprising bankers, teachers, students, business people, and others had to reschedule their busy lives to make time every evening for rehearsals. Shashi Ghulati made sure they were all there every time.
The CBC Theatre Group is special. One, it has been around for so many years. Secondly, the members, both those who have been there from the start to the newest, display unbridled enthusiasm and commitment for theatre in the city. Finally, it has experimented with different plays and playwrights. There have been English and American plays staged and lately works of Indian playwrights such as Girish Karnad have been featured. Waiting in the wings is one of Mahesh Dattani's play.
Not just the cast and crew, a big chunk of Coimbatore seems to cheer it on, going by the number of sponsors, and of course, the wonderful audience.