Trinity , a play by The Madras Players, which had its first run in 2018, came back in the news when it was recently made available on online platforms for global audiences. Based on the lives of the Carnatic music Trinity, Syama Sastri, Muthuswami Dikshitar and Tyagaraja, the play is an adaptation of short stories written by Seeta Ravi and translated by Prabha Sridevan, retired judge of the Madras High Court. Designed and directed by P.C. Ramakrishna, the play has a stellar cast, with renowned musicians Vijay Siva, Gayatri Venkataraghavan and S. Sunder performing the roles of Dikshitar, Syama Sastri’s wife Lalitha, and Tyagaraja, respectively.
The episodic play begins with the narrator Tyagesan setting the story in motion: ‘The three great composers of Carnatic music, all born around the same time in Tiruvaiyaru’. While depicting the lives of the composers, the play makes no effort to dwell on the intellectual exchanges between them or their musical ideas. The stories too are those that abound in the public realm.
Dikshitar’s kshetra kritis
The story of Dikshitar is chiefly about how he moved from one kshetram to the other with his disciples, composing the major kritis in his huge body of work. In the play, Dikshitar (Vijay Siva) journeys from Mayiladuthurai (‘Mayuranatham,’ Dhanyasi) to Thiruindalur (‘Parimala Rangan,’ Hamir Kalyani) rendering both compositions beautifully. The episode is information oriented, mentioning Dikshitar’s Srividya worship, Panchabhuta kritis, and his penchant for Hindustani ragas. Dikshitar’s Nottuswarams also find a place.
The story of Syama Sastri is told through a conversation between his wife Lalitha (Gayatri Venkataraghavan) and Dharmambal. Dharmambal accuses Syama Sastri of neglecting his wife, but Lalitha argues that her loneliness is mitigated by his exquisite music, which is her constant companion. During this exchange, Lalitha speaks of how Syama Sastri refused to take royal favours, and surrendered only to Goddess Kamakshi. They discuss him as the architect of the swarajati form, narrate stories of how he defeated Appukutti Nattuvanar, Kesavayya from Bobbili and others. Gayatri Venkataraghavan sings some of his masterpieces such as ‘Himachala Tanaya,’ ‘Devi Brova,’ and ‘Kamakshi ’ during the enactment.
The last episode dwells on Tyagaraja, and narrates the famous story of his disciple Walajahpet Venkataramana Bhagavatar gifting Tyagaraja a photo of Rama for his daughter’s wedding. From here, it moves to a conversation with his daughter Seeta about his obsession with Rama. There is also repeated reference to Rama appearing before Tyagaraja and how he was enchanted by the sight of “the four of them”. Much of Tyagaraja’s life has been recounted based on references found in his kritis, and there is no authentic biography of him. Most narratives are, therefore, a figment of people’s imagination. When such is the case, the stories that we uphold and recirculate in the public realm gain enormous significance. S. Sunder, who plays Tyagaraja, sang the kritis with assurance.
Trinity , with all its good intentions and generous amounts of passion, doesn’t succeed as theatre. It has an Amar Chitra Katha feel to it. A highly indulgent script, mediocre set design and choreography, and a cast that has almost no trained actors alters the experience. The chorus does a poor rendition, and most dialogue deliveries have less nuance and tend more towards the high mimetic, making it monotonous. A better script and higher production values could have made this a good piece of art.
The Bengaluru-based journalist writes on art and culture.