Theatre

The lure of Chudamani

English play Chudamani staged by Madras Players at Chennai

English play Chudamani staged by Madras Players at Chennai   | Photo Credit: R_Ragu

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The dramatic potential of the stories of Chudamani led The Madras Players to turn them into a play, say theatrepersons PC Ramakrishna and Nikhila Kesavan

“How may I help?” booms the distinctive baritone over the phone. It is veteran theatre person PC Ramakrishna who will be in Coimbatore later this week with Chudamani, a play based on the short stories of renowned Tamil author. Presented by the Madras Players and adapted for stage by Nikhila Kesavan and directed by Ramakrishna, the play was “premiered around two years ago and has had 15-16 performances,” says Ramakrishna.

Ask what keeps this play going and both Ramakrishna and Kesavan talk about the “lure of Chudamani.” Ramakrishna had read Chudamani’s work in the original Tamil and when Justice Prabha Sridevan translated 25 stories into English he sought permission to adapt them for stage. “I chose five from Prabha’s translation and two others which were not part of that collection.”

Kesavan admits that her introduction to Chudamani was through Ramakrishna. “I cannot read Tamil,” she says frankly. “Prabha’s translation made them accessible to me. And Ram wanted me to adapt some of the stories for the stage. The stories are not stereotypical. We picked themes that were fresh.”

Though I speak to them at different times, I notice that both use the same words to describe the stories: women centric, far ahead of the times, progressive … “For those not familiar with Chudamani’s writing, I can guarantee that they will be surprised by the kind of statements her women have made,” says Ramakrishna emphatically. Kesavan adds, “This doesn’t mean she puts the men down. Her men are as interesting as her women.”

Nikhila Kesavan who adapted Chudamini for the stage

Nikhila Kesavan who adapted Chudamini for the stage   | Photo Credit: S_R_Raghunathan

What drew Kesavan to these stories was how moving they were and the dramatic potential inherent in them. “These are my first two criteria when I adapt a book for stage. The other factor I look for is relatability. The theme should be something familiar, even if I don’t know the setting. For example, when I adapted the Pakistani novel Tunnel Vision, something about the descriptions of Karachi reminded me of Chennai.”

Speaking about the process of adaptation, Kesavan says that she didn’t want the seven stories to stand alone. “It had to be one continuous fabric and I needed something to connect them. I made Chudamani herself the connecting factor. So she takes the audience through her stories in different ways. In some, she’s the narrator. In others, it’s almost as if she’s a spectator or a sounding board.”

Both Ramakrishna and Kesavan agree that the theatre scene has seen an upswing and one of the reasons they attribute it to the move to Indian writing. “We didn’t have to put on an accent. We could be ourselves,” says Ramakrishnan. “Over the years, we have done adaptations of authors like Sivasankarai, Indira Parthasarathy, Komal Swaminathan and we found our reach growing exponentially.” Kesavan adds that, apart from adapting translated works, there is also original writing in English. “I have adapted Chetan Bhagat’s 5 Point Someone and Manu Joseph’s Serious Men, both of which are an accurate representation of life in India.”

The other factor that they bring up is the increasing number of youngsters in the field. While Ramakrishna says it allows him to borrow from the “mother lode”, Kesavan seems doubtful how long it will continue. “There is a perception that theatre is cool so many youngsters are getting involved in some way or other.” She also points out that newer formats like the Short & Sweet are also being explored. “I haven’t tried it so far but it seems to work,” she says.

While Kesavan is reading a lot to figure out what her next adaptation will be, Ramakrishna is excited about a project that he will premiere in November “Sitha Rajan, Kalki Krishnamurthy’s granddaughter, has written three stories about Thyagaraja, Muthuswami Dikshitar and Shyama Shastri. I am adapting these stories to stage with live Carnatic music. I am speaking to various artistes to sing for this production.”

P. C. Ramakrishna, veteran theatre actor and voice artist.

P. C. Ramakrishna, veteran theatre actor and voice artist.   | Photo Credit: S_R_Raghunathan

It wasn’t my medium

Why didn’t Ramakrishna crossover into films like many theatre actors? “Well, people did ask and I said no. I had a job and was doing voiceovers as well. In 1993, when I took early retirement, I did a few films like Thiruda Thiruda and May Madham. Mani Ratnam and his brother were part of my social circle as well. But I was more interested in theatre. I couldn’t dedicate 10-12 days for films. It was a nice experience but it wasn’t my medium.

Bonding over Chudamani

For over two years, the group of actors in Chudamani has remained the same. “The moment I say Chudamani, they all get together,” says Ramakrishna. “The play has seen 19 people bond over her writing. Only twice have we had to replace actors: once when one was having a baby and another when someone had to travel. That is the lure of Chudamani.

Info you can use

The play is a fundraiser organised by Round Table India and Ladies Circle India. The proceeds will go towards the Tinkle After School Centre, which empowers 50 underprivileged rural girls from standard III to VIII with life skills

Round Table India provides quality infrastructure for a holistic learning experience by constructing classrooms, libraries, labratories and providing furniture and lab equipment to create an atmosphere conducive to learning. Facilities for sanitation, hygiene and drinking water are also provided to ensure the children’s health

The play will be staged at Nani Palkhivala Auditorium, Mani Higher Secondary School, Netaji Road PN Palayam at 6.30 pm on March 17

Donor passes of ₹2500 (Admit two), ₹1500 (Admit two) and ₹500 (Admit one) are available at all IAB outlets

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Printable version | Jan 25, 2020 8:14:02 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/theatre/pc-ramakrishna-and-nikhila-kesavan-talk-about-the-making-of-chudamani/article23203245.ece

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