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Speaking of double

DEEPA GANESH
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THEATRE Theyya Theyyam performed by the Sopanam Institute of Performing Arts was based on the traditional Theyyam form

Collapsing time The multiple incarnations of the age old Photo: Bhagya Prakash K.
Collapsing time The multiple incarnations of the age old Photo: Bhagya Prakash K.

K avalam Narayan Pannikar stands tall among Indian theatre practitioners of post-Independence India. Until then, theatre in India, broadly followed the British model; it was renewed with indigenous thought and energy owing to the efforts of Kavalam Narayan Pannikar, Habib Tanvir and many others. Serious thought was put into developing modern Indian drama, something that later came to be referred to as “Theatre of Roots”.

“Theyya Theyyam”, a performance based on the traditional Theyyam form of the Malabar region of Kerala, was performed by the Sopanam Institute of Performing Arts and Research, set up in 1964. The Institute under the guidance of Kavalam Narayan Pannikar endeavours to explore new performance aesthetics.

“Theyya Theyyam”, performed as part of the Ranga Shankara Theatre Festival 2010 tells the story of Ramunni who plays the Theyyam in the village festival, year after year. The story opens with Rama being banished to the forest. Lakshmana and Sita follow Rama. As they start enacting the story, in the minds of the villagers, the mythical characters leave the myth and are reincarnated amidst them. They mutate into the landlord, the police, so on and so forth. As their minds work out these various dimensions – relationship of coloniser and colonised, feudal lords and agrarian communities, loss of language — the characters of the myth become reincarnations in the present.

The foot tapping refrain “Theyya Theyyam Theyya Theyya Theyya Theyyam” works well as a reminder: it reinforces the source as well as the departure. It also adds force to the revolutionary element of the Theyyam on which the play builds its aesthetics. It's fascinating to see how the world of Gods gradually coalesces into the world of humans thereby deifying them. However, the connections were forced and failed to make an impact. Neither was the myth enhanced, nor did the retelling gain dimensions. You neither got total experience of the form nor felt enriched by its content. In a sense, one felt diminished by the black and white nature of its reading.

The cast was lively and vibrant. The music was catchy. The choreography (for instance, the boat scene) was lovely and so was the use of properties.

DEEPA GANESH

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