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The magic of Malgudi

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Childhood drama The unforgettable
Childhood drama The unforgettable

Swami and Friends kept the audience in great cheer as they brought R.K Narayan's irrepressible classic alive on stage, writes Pankaja Srinivasan

Hands must have itched to get hold of Swami and Friends, that evening, after the performance at Geedee Auditorium. A stage adaptation of the R.K Narayan classic was brought to town by theatre groups— The Madras Players and Landing Stage. They were invited by the Coimbatore Round Table No. 9 in order to raise funds for its commendable nation-wide project called “Freedom through Education.” The initiative envisions changing the futures of at least one million children.

Brownie points

The round tablers couldn't have chosen better. They also earned brownie points by beginning the show on the dot at 6.45 p.m. as promised on the ticket. A brief introduction to the evening and everyone was ready to go.

It is a given that no one can improve on Swami and Friends. It is just the perfect tale, superbly told, quite unmatched. So, when one heard there would be a stage adaptation, one was, quite frankly, sceptical. You don't want anyone messing around with your most favourite book.

But, it was a splendid performance. Manasi Subramaniam who adapted the play and Aruna Ganesh Ram who directed it couldn't be faulted. The play began with Mani (Shyam Sundar) taking the audience on a flashback. Half derisively, half annoyed and a little jealously, Mani speaks of the arrival in Malgudi of Rajam (Ajay Kumar Ramachandran) who has Swami eating out of his hands.

Full of treats

Manasi said, “The novel is so filled with wonderful moments that it was hard to decide what to keep and what not to keep for the stage.” But, to my mind, they had picked all the right incidents that stand out in the book. Swami's (Ujwal Nair) quarrel with the arithmetic problem involving mangoes; his righteous indignation over the scripture teacher Ebenezer's ((Shankar Sundaram) criticism of Indian Gods and his own triumphant question to Ebenezer, as he demands to know “How god can be a non-vegetarian!”

Whenever one thinks of Swami, the child actor Manjunath in the delightful television version of the book comes to mind.

His is a hard act to follow. But, Ujwal Nair nailed it, as did Shyam Sundar as Mani who is ever ready to jump into battle. He routinely threatens to break people's heads with his club and throw them into the Sarayu River.

Just like the book

Swami on the other hand is a bit of a ‘ thairu vadai'— a little scared, easily bullied and a paati's boy. Rajam is swaggering, bullying, full of self importance and pompous.

They were just like what one had imagined them to be reading the book.

In fact everyone seemed to have stepped right out of the pages of the book. P.C. Ramakrishna as Vedanayagam the mathematics teacher, Swami's dad Srinivasan played by TT Srinath and, of course Swami's paati essayed by Sushi Natraj brought the Malgudi magic sweeping back.

The others in the cast included Mohamed Yusuf as the Board High Master, Sachin Damodaran as the policeman and Viswajit O as Somu.

The adaptation was a success going by the laughter that rarely stopped, and the happy faces all around.

It was lovely to revisit one of the best books ever written for kids in this part of the world.

THE PLAYERS

The Madras Players

The Madras Players is the oldest English Theatre Group in India. It had its beginnings as a play-reading group established by the British Council to promote English language theatre. In the last couple of decades The Madras Players have celebrated Indian themes in English through translations, adaptations and also original works.

Landing Stage

It is the only entirely youth-run theatre group in Chennai. It provides an opportunity to students who wish to do theatre. Not just acting, it also provides a platform to learn about associated activities such as designing sets, sound and light, prop/stage management and even box-office handling. It also provides aspiring writers an opportunity to have their work read, staged at workshop situations or experimented with.

Backstage

Music: B. Shree Sundar Kumar

Lighting : V. Balakrishnan

Set : Victor Paulraj

Caricatures/Animation: Ujwal Nair

Sound: Susan Abraham

Costumes: Vidhyullekha Raman

Make up: Madhumati N/ Sunanda Narayanswamy

Production: Gopi Nair

Text Adaptation : Manasi Subramaniam

Design and Direction: Aruna Ganesh Ram

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