Theatre

Drama and real life

L Ramraj, assistant professor of Tamil at PSG College of Arts and Science, Coimbatore, rehearsing with students. Photo: S. Siva Saravanan/THE HINDU

L Ramraj, assistant professor of Tamil at PSG College of Arts and Science, Coimbatore, rehearsing with students. Photo: S. Siva Saravanan/THE HINDU  

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Besides teaching Tamil, L Ramraj enjoys using theatre to introduce his students to literature, social issues and more

It's not often that a director prostrates on the stage beseeching his audience to pay close attention to his play — but then L Ramraj is a master of the unexpected. As an assistant professor of Tamil at the PSG College of Arts and Science in Coimbatore with a passion for the performing arts, Ramraj, 36, knows a thing or two about dramatic pauses.

The recent staging of his plays Pethavan (The Begetter) and Naarkali (Chair) at the Bishop Heber College in Tiruchi, gave ample evidence of that.

In addition to teaching, Ramraj is also in charge of the PSG College's dramatics club since 2011, which is known for its active participation in theatre festivals.

“I am from the Badaga community of Ullathatti village in Milidhane, Kotagiri district,” says Ramraj. “Everyone in the village was musically inclined, including my father, HP Lingan, a school teacher, who plays many instruments. We would all gather in the evenings for singing sessions.”

Ramraj also has an unusual hobby: he collects traditional musical instruments. The name of his two-year-old drama troupe, Pugiri Arangattam, pays tribute to the tribal wind instrument of the Badaga/Irula community. “My father plays the Pugiri, so the name has a very personal connection,” he says.

All the world's a stage
  • The Drama Club of PSG College of Arts and Sciences has been quietly making inroads into theatre, with a schedule that includes regular student productions. “We were the first college-level group to be selected by the National School of Drama (NSD) in 2015, for Muruga Bhoopathy's play Neer Nadodigal. I acted and coordinated the work for the group,” says Ramraj.
  • Ramraj won the best script prize for his play Koorai in the ‘Shelter for All’ competition organised by the National Housing Bank.
  • “We have regular monthly and one annual production in the college. Besides our own writing, we also invite theatre experts from cultural organisations like Ninasam, Mysore and Ranga Shankara, Bengaluru, to direct plays for us. We also attend other college-level events, like the annual ‘Festember’ of National Institute of Technology - Tiruchi (NITT), where we won prizes for three consecutive years,” says Ramraj.
  • The club also stages English plays, such as Bertolt Brecht's Threepenny Opera, and Girish Karnad's Hayavadana and Nagamandala, besides Shakespearean drama

Though he hasn't been formally trained in theatre, Ramraj has been an interested observer of religious rituals and folk culture, which have informed his work as an actor and director.

“I was introduced to modern plays when I attended a theatre workshop in Udumalapettai in 2005. It inspired me to travel widely, in search of plays and folk performances, especially in the tribal belt of the State. I started seeing the links between the works of modern dramatists and the role of rituals to express ideas,” he says.

Citing Bertolt Brecht, Badal Sircar's Third Theatre movement, street plays and religious rites as his key influences, Ramraj says it is very important to show youngsters the way the world functions through drama.

Pethavan, (adapted from a 2015 short story by Imayam) for instance, highlighted the violent and invective-laced reaction to an inter-caste relationship, and its inevitable tragic end. “The reaction to Pethavan is quite unpredictable whenever we stage it,” says Ramraj. “Some people agree with our viewpoint, but many are outraged, and leave the play half-way. Then there are others who try to justify honour killings.”

His troupe is composed of amateur actors, mostly students, who can devote time to theatre after their class hours. As staging plays is a costly business, Ramraj keeps his sets minimal, and gets the ‘collective body' to step in as props.

His Naarkali is an adaptation of stories by alternative theatre legend Ki Rajanarayanan.

The play, which looks at how an object of desire like the chair can become a source of fear and power politics, uses humour to cut through the pretensions of its characters like a sharp-edged knife.

Naarkali has been selected for the South Indian People's Theatre Festival, to be held in Chennai from October 2-6. “We will be adapting it for a bigger stage this time,” says Ramraj, who plays the lead.

Besides this, Ramraj has written nine plays on a wide variety of topics, such as the environment, social issues and feminism. In Balimagan, he examines the building of the Brihadeeswara Temple in Thanjavur from the viewpoint of a royal guard, and tries to compare it with the treatment meted out to labourers in the modern world.

“I also try to bring poems by Thamizhachi Thangapandian and Kalyanji to the stage, using just their symbolism and the story that they convey.” says Ramraj. Having already staged a Tamil translation of Saadat Hassan Manto's Khol Do (Open it/Thira), he has now adapted the Pakistani writer's short stories for his latest script Apple, that talks about dispossession of ethnic minorities due to misgovernance.

“Manto's perspective was shaped by the Partition, but I feel his ideas are still valid in these turbulent times,” Ramraj says.

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Printable version | Jan 23, 2020 7:02:14 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/theatre/academic-and-arts-enthusiast-l-ramraj-of-coimbatore-is-bringing-a-new-energy-to-campus-theatre/article29540938.ece

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