Theatre activist M.G. Jyothish makes the stage mirror the world around him. He talks to Saraswathy Nagarajanabout his evolution as a director and theatre activist

Theatre activist M.G. Jyothish’s world is the stage. Theatre, he says, is his path to understand the world and his place in it.

“Plays that I have directed are a result of the quest within myself and my evolution as a person. If ‘Bhagavadajjukam’ reflected my confusions and inner dialogues, ‘Siddharatha’ was a more philosophical approach to life and its problems. ‘Macbeth,’ my latest play, is a continuation of that search. It delves into the basic instincts of man,” explains Jyothish who is in the midst of hectic rehearsals for ‘Macbeth’ at Plathara, on the outskirts of the city. His Malayalam adaptation of ‘Macbeth’ will be the curtain raiser for the National Theatre Festival that begins in the city on March 2.

Whether it be adaptations of ancient Sanskrit dramas, Shakespearean tragedies or German novels, plays directed by Jyothish are anchored on powerful subtexts and a rich visual stage craft.

‘Bhagavadajjukam,’ his first play, wherein he elaborated on widespread hypocrisies in the practice of spiritualism and politics, won the Sangeetha Nataka Akademi special jury award in 2001 and was selected by Prithvi Theatre for its annual festival. ‘Siddartha,’ an adaptation of the novel by Herman Hesse, was an official entry at the Avignon Theatre Festival in France and was staged in Prithvi as well.

“We had to scramble around to get the money for our tickets. But the play was a hit and the 15 ticketed performances there reinforced our confidence. The only major place we have not been invited to is the theatre festival in Kerala,” points out Jyothish. Despite tasting success as a director, he is quite aware of the fact that theatre persons in Kerala do not occupy centre stage in the cultural scenario of the State.

“I am able to do what I want to thanks to my brother and parents who still support me financially. I have no responsibilities,” adds the 32-year-old with a wide smile. He claims he is still a bachelor because “who would want to marry a penurious theatre activist.”

An ardent theatre buff since his student days in St. Joseph’s, his interest was kept alive by his parents, Govindan and Janamma, who were also amateur actors.

The turning point

The turning point for the theatre enthusiast came after he joined Abhinaya, where he was groomed by veteran actor and director Raghoothaman.

“I used to take classes at home and it was one of my students who told me about a theatre group in Ulloor who were into serious theatre. That was how I reached Abhinaya,” remembers Jyothish. There are no stars in Abhinaya. Every one does all kinds of work – from swabbing the floor to playing the lead, he adds.

“I had to fetch water, run errands and gradually work my way up. Finally, I landed a small role in a play called ‘Rogikalude Mitram.’ The five-time award winner of the best actor in school immediately unleashed his histrionic skills. Raghu Chettan merely watched me and said nothing. Later he asked me: how old is the character? What does he do? Where is he going…? I had never thought of theatre so deeply. That was when I began to see plays with my mind and analyse a character thoroughly…It was a new approach that eventually reinforced my belief that theatre was where I belonged to,” recalls Jyotish with a grin.

That realisation took him to the School of Drama in Thrissur after he completed his pre-degree from Mar Ivanios College. “After the intense theatre we had experienced in Abhinaya, the academic environs and syllabus-oriented pedagogy in the School unsettled me for a while,” admits Jyotish. But after a while, he decided to make the best of the facilities available in the School. “It was an opportunity to read and see plays from across the world. Moreover, during the four years there, one is involved in at least 60 plays. That gives us an exposure to different aspects of theatre,” says Jyothish who went on to do his post-graduation in theatre from Pondicherry.

He feels that there are certain timeless universal values in certain plays that transcend language and culture. Citing ‘Macbeth’ as an example, he says: “It is not the story of a Scottish king and the struggle for the throne. My interpretation of the play was on a different plane. I tried to plumb the minds of Macbeth, Lady Macbeth and Banquo. It is a story of ambition, greed and power play."

Jyothish prefers developing his own visual and theatre idiom to awkward adaptations of traditional art forms to stage his plays. “One should explore the myriad possibilities of the stage instead of falling back on hackneyed methods of narration.”

Despite many theatre persons making it big in cinema, Jyothish says he would like to stick to the stage as it not a medium that is driven by money or technology alone. “All we need is a stage and committed actors and a play is born,” he says as he gets ready to rush back to the rehearsals of ‘Macbeth.’