Theatre

The feminine perspective

Chudamani was a trip back in time Photo: R. Ragu

Chudamani was a trip back in time Photo: R. Ragu   | Photo Credit: R_Ragu

The Madras Players brought alive seven vivid short stories by Tamil writer R. Chudamani

Sankari, Thulasi and Kasturi were ordinary women who led ordinary lives. Until a genius of a writer laid bare their emotions with startling honesty. It was as though she could read their minds and their deep secrets.

This was the genius of reclusive Tamil writer R. Chudamani’s stories: they featured characters that almost came alive. Living, breathing people, with complex minds that she could read. And in doing so, she unveiled a whole spectrum of emotions that manipulated people.

The Madras Players picked seven such stories for its play Chudamani, perflormed last weekend — the first time the writer’s works were adapted in English for the stage.

It was a big responsibility — adapting Chudamani’s sensitive portrayal of humankind, especially women. The Madras Players knew this and handled it well. The stories were translated into English by Prabha Sridevan and were adapted for the stage by Nikhila Kesavan, who also played the white-sari-clad Chudamani. She spoke about her characters to the audience, but was mostly an observer, watching her words take on a new form.

Chudamani was a trip back in time. When letter-writing and arranged marriages were the norm.

When a father’s most important concern in life was to get his daughter married off before she became ‘too old’. When women married as young as 20… But what was fascinating was that even then, the characters were much ahead of their times.

Like free-spirited Sankari who marries thrice — once drugged by young love; the second time to experience a physical relationship and motherhood; and the third time, for intellectual companionship. The story shows her second and third husbands discussing the enigma of Sankari after her death.

Then, there was the story of Thulasi, a young widow from an orthodox community, whose understanding of life’s philosophy is beyond her years, despite spending most of her life within four walls. Bhuvana, a character we only get to hear of from Mahalingam, her ageing father — this story revolves around a man who offers him a lift in his car on a hot day in Chennai. Mahalingam is doing the rounds with Bhuvana’s horoscope to get her married. She’s just 19, but he has started the ‘hunt’ nevertheless, he tells the well-off gentleman who takes him to his destination.

The two meet 15 years later — but nothing has changed in Mahalingam’s life; Bhuvana is still unmarried and he is still visiting prospective grooms with her horoscope. D. Ramachandran’s performance as Mahalingam was powerful and moving.

In fact, the highlight of Chudamani was the casting. Krithikaa Shurajit who played Suganthi, Dharma Raman who played Kasturi, P.C. Ramakrishna (the director) who played a visually-impaired father… there was some inspired acting on display.

For those new to Chudamani’s stories, the play was a revelation. How else can one describe their reaction to the writer’s take on a lonely young wife’s attraction towards a man who visits her and her much older husband? Chudamani sees these emotions as mere passing phases; feelings of infidelity — perhaps a strong word in this context — is human and one that will fade away.

The seven short stories were deftly interwoven; the transition between them was smooth and the narration maintained the voice of the writer. It was evident that the team felt an emotional attachment to the reclusive writer — so much so that they used a wooden table that actually belonged to Chudamani, as part of the props.

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Printable version | Jun 4, 2020 10:28:43 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/theatre/The-feminine-perspective/article14664353.ece

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