Svanubhava 2018: An artistic amalgam

Irula dances by the Asad Kala Sangam and a play based on Ki Rajanarayan’s short story by the PSG-CAS Drama Cub offer a local flavour to Svanubhava 2018.

Published - February 20, 2018 08:52 pm IST

Members of the Asad Kala Sangam in performance

Members of the Asad Kala Sangam in performance

‘These songs keep our traditions alive’

My introduction to the songs and dances of the Irulas came through ‘Kake dage’, which tells of the different varieties of greens that grow in the forests of Anaikatti. A little research showed that, of the 25 types mentioned in the song, only seven were still found.

So one of the questions for M Balan of Asad Kala Sangam, Attapady, was whether there were other such songs. “Yes, of course,” he says. “Earlier, we had to walk a long way to fetch water. So we have a song that tells you about pots, which should be carried on the head and which on the hip.” Another song, ‘Le le le Karadi’, talks about the bears in the region.

The Sangam was formed in 2012 and has performed in Delhi, Mumbai and cities in Orissa. “When we travel, we are a group of 16,” says Balan. “We have selected 10 songs and the steps for each are different. The lyrics are mostly about farming, love, religion and death. He refers to one song, ‘Namathu naadu’, which talks about how the Manukara had to start sowing before others could do so. He doesn’t have much information on the role of the manukara , though. He is the person associated with mannu (earth), is all he can say.

Ask if they have made any changes in the songs or dances for the sake of performance and Balan sounds almost indignant. “No, we have not changed anything,” he emphasises. “If we do that we won’t get a chance to perform.” They had earlier cut a CD of Irula music and “we called one boy who has sung for films to sing in that. He used the film style and spoilt the whole thing,” he rues. Balan points out that these songs talk about life in the Irula villages in the past. “In some villages, our traditions have been wiped out. These songs are the only ones to keep that alive. But we have chosen only those songs that we can dance to.”

The Asad Kala Sangam will perform Irula dances on February 22 at 11.00 am

‘Theatre is a kind of journey’

L Ramraj, Professor in the Tamil Department and the person in charge of the Drama Club in PSG College of Arts and Science, was bitten by the drama bug even as a student. “I belong to Kotagiri and my village would have all-night plays during the annual festival. I wrote the script for one play when I was still in Std X,” he laughs.

Though he took charge of the college drama club only in 2012, he has been involved with theatre from 2007 when he attended a camp by the Chennai-based Koothu-p-pattarai and began working with award-winning playwright S Murugabhoopathy. “I have adapted CS Lakshmi’s ‘Kaatil Oru Maan’ and Jeyakanthan’s ‘Agnipravesham’ as plays. Every year, I do a play on environmental issues for the Environment Week conducted by Osai, a Coimbatore-based NGO.

Talking of student interest in theatre, Ramraj says, “The children are initially very hesitant to join the drama club. One fear is that they will lose marks. Also they’re more interested in dance than in drama. Those who join are put through multiple workshops and personality development games.” Ramraj also tries to relate the stories they’re adapting to real life. “I ask them to put themselves in the characters’ places. Would they have reacted the same way? We have discussions based on that.”

A role in a play comes after many such sessions. “Theatre is a kind of travel, both mental and physical,” muses Ramraj. All these discussions make the students more thoughtful. The physical aspect comes when they take the play to other places. “The travel broadens their horizons, gives them exposure. They begin to think about society.” There is a note of pride in his voice when he says that his students have done well for themselves. “Many who joined the undergraduate course based on the parents’ desire developed confidence and courage to stand up for themselves and choose a post-graduate course of their own choice.” He cites their production of Murugabhoopathy’s ‘Neer Nadodigal’ two years ago as a turning point. “There are many more takers for drama now.”

Finally, I ask why he chose to perform Ki Rajanarayanan’s ‘Naarkali’ (Chair) at Svanubhava 2018. He had already adapted the short story last year as a tribute to the author's 96th birthday. “I thought it would be very appropriate for Svanubhava because it will appeal to both children and adults. The story is about a village that does not have any chairs. What transpires when one household gets a chair is what the play is about. And the prime mover is the character of a young child. While youngsters see it as a comedy, the adults will see a reflection of current politics.”

The PSG-CAS Drama Club will perform Ki Ra's Naarkali, directed by L Ramraj, on February 23 at 2.45 pm

Info you can use

When: February 22 and 23 from 9.30 am to 4.00 pm

Where: Vidya Vanam School, Thuvaipathy Road, Anaikatti

What: The other performances over the two days are Kuchipudi by Jaikishore & Padmavani Mosalikanti; Rhythm Ensemble by BS Purushotham on the kanjira, Delhi Sairam on the mridangam and Krishna Sriram on the ghatam; Oyilattam by Nanbargal Gramiya Kalaikuzhu;Tholpavakoothu by Ramachandra Pulavar and troupe; Nadaswaram recita by Kollangode Subramani and team; Yakshagana performance by Purna Pragna Yaksha Kala Kendra from Udupi. There will also be stalls showcasing arts and crafts ranging from Kurumba painting and Toda embroidery to Rajasthani lac bangles and Odia Patachitra paintings. Food stalls will offer local cuisine of the Irulas to create awareness about the food of the region.

Contact: Email or or call +919655922815 for more details. The event is free for all and the school will provide tea and lunch.

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