From the desk of Chudamani

A scene from Chudamani

A scene from Chudamani  


Chudamani, presented by the Madras Players, seamlessly wove seven stories into one play that gave the audience much to think about

The house lights went out as a young woman in white sat at the desk in a corner of the stage. In the centre were a rather stiff sofa, two big box-like stools on either side, and three screens with one featuring a photo of Mahatma Gandhi and another a film poster. Even before we took all this in, the spotlight highlighted the desk. As the woman began to speak, it was clear that she represented the renowned Tamil author Chudamani. She spoke of publishing her first story and how she began writing. Even as she spoke, the action began.

A scene from Chudamani

A scene from Chudamani  

One could sum up the first play as two men, two lives and two meetings. When Rajasekaran and Mahalingam first meet, the talk is general: where they work and about their families. Fifteen years later, Rajasekaran has moved up in the world while, for Mahalingam, time seems to have stood still. The collective sigh that went up at the end showed how invested the audience was in the story.

A scene from Chudamani

A scene from Chudamani  

As the actors exited from one side, they quietly rotated the film poster: it now read Apoorva Ragangal. On the other side stood a woman, preening herself. An older man comes in and the conversation tells you that they are married. The husband is concerned that his much-younger pretty wife will find life boring.

A scene from Chudamani

A scene from Chudamani  

The next scene cuts to another man and woman. Again it was their talk that told you that the woman thinks the man is interested in her daughter. But he is obviously uncomfortable with the assumption. The film poster is the clue.

The two plays are juxtaposed and the dénouement is simple: the husband finds his wife in tears after a visit from his friends and their nephew. “It’s not your fault,” he says gently. The mother in the second play is upset and angry when she realises that the younger man is interested in her. Why? Because she’s a widow and a mother. This interspersing of the two plays leads one to think about age gaps and gender inequality.

The fourth play began with a youngster telling an older man that he’s seen the latter’s daughter check into a hotel with a man. The father is aghast and ashamed but blames himself. He is blind and totally dependent on his daughter. He is confident in his daughter’s love for him, proud of the fact that she holds her own in a demanding job but… she is not married. When he asks her rather falteringly about her friends, “even a special friend”, she realises that he knows but will not make excuses or offer an explanation.

A man took the stage, mourning the loss of his wife. In a few deft strokes, we are given a picture of a couple intellectually equal and much in love with each other. She has a son, he says, but I had to light the pyre.

Another man rushes in, visibly agitated. He is the woman’s former husband. As the two men recall their lives with Sankari, you realise how we twist things to see what we want to see.

The scene now moved to a priest’s house. His widowed daughter wants to adopt a young boy of unknown parentage but he cannot accept that. As he describes the ritual of Tirumanjanam, she asks what is the point of it all if he cannot see God within? The soft strain of ‘Raghupati Raghava Raja Ram’ filled the auditorium, as the priest accepted his position was flawed.

The last act had a young girl dreaming of big things. She is Rani of Jhansi, she says, Florence Nightingale, Muthulakshmi Reddy, Jane Austen... Reality strikes when she watches her father and his wife and learns that her mother had to give away her Sanskrit books “because your father didn’t like me to read a language that he did not know.” Her marriage is fixed; they don’t want dowry, says the relieved father. But they do want other things: for Meenakshi to quit her job, to pierce her nose. Will Meenakshi give in to these demands as her mother advises or will she find out who she is?

For over 90 minutes, these encounters kept people glued to their seats. A wry laugh when one father spoke of hunting for grooms, a sigh when the angry mother turns away her admirer, applause when Meenakshi declares that she will be her own woman and not bow down to random demands…

The team from Madras Players played on the audience’s strings like the professionals that they are. The sharp dialogue and the superb acting made you invest in the characters.

Even those to whom the Tamil Brahmin setting was unfamiliar could relate to the issues that the plays dealt with. As the young friend who accompanied me to the play asked, “Where can I get these stories? I would like to read them.”

Stage notes

Chudamani was directed by PC Ramakrishna and adapted for stage by Nikhila Kesavan. The other actors were Aditya, Rangachari, Sharanya Bharat, Dharma Raman, Vikram Ravi, Sridhar Chandra, Krithika Shurajit, Sharanya Bharat, Sarvesh Sridhar, Ram, D Ramachandran, Balaji Moorthy, Sharanya Krishnan, TT Srinath, Hyma Ramakrishnan, Supraja and Priyanka Raghuraman. Lights were handled by Nishok

At the end when the cast gathered on stage to be introduced, Kesavan gestured to Ramakrishnan rather urgently. The latter then informed the audience that the desk, lamp and chair were Chudamani’s and had been used by the author

When one entered the auditorium, each chair had a little bottle of water. While appreciating the organiser’s intentions, surely a water station outside would have a better option instead of generating so much plastic waste

Despite the compère making multiple requests for people to turn off their mobiles, the play was interrupted every now and then by the trill of the phones

The play was a fundraiser organised by Round Table India and Ladies Circle India and the proceeds will go towards the Tinkle After School Centre.

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Printable version | Jan 24, 2020 3:05:57 PM |

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