Prasanna Ramaswamy’s Kadhaiyalla Vaazhkkai mirrors life

Kadhaiyalla Vaazhkkai, a theatrical adaptation of Imayam’s short stories, was a stark portrayal of contemporary social issues

April 14, 2022 05:18 pm | Updated April 16, 2022 02:05 pm IST

A scene from Kadaiyalla Vaazhkkai.

A scene from Kadaiyalla Vaazhkkai. | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

I had read a curtain-raiser of Prasanna Ramaswamy’s latest bouquet of popular Tamil writer Imayam’s stories — Kadhaiyalla Vaazhkkai. Even before I watched the play, I knew her ability to adapt the written word for the stage. Though known for her non-linear narratives, the theatre director and documentary filmmaker says, this time she opted for the linear. It shows the trust Prasanna has in Imayam’s words. Both are extraordinary creators, with a strong sense of politics and a rare inclusiveness. I recently watched the performance of the four short stories. The mood darkened as the play moved from one story to the other. The last one particularly was gut-wrenching.

The education system

Offer, the first story, is about our rapacious private educational institutions. Gomathi’s (Antony Janagi) twins are just two years old. The ‘sales girl’ (read teacher) from Gnanalaya Matric School offers all kinds of freebies , from gold to land plots, if Gomathi seeks admission for her children in the school. The lure is too much for Gomathi and her husband (Prasanna Ram Kumar), who themselves are teachers in a government school. They soon prepare to send their children to Gnanalaya. There are scenes that evoke laughter, but the story sends out a strong message about the commodification of education.

A scene from Kadaiyalla Vaazhkkai.

A scene from Kadaiyalla Vaazhkkai. | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Visual media ethics

The second, Manalurin Kadhai, is about how the television media has become fake and flakey. If you have to churn out stories 24x7, you have no other option. Ganesan (Prasanna Ram Kumar), who comes to Chennai with dreams of doing something meaningful in life, becomes a television reporter, and assumes the name Sri Sri. He visits different towns every week in search of sensational stories. When he goes to Manalur, he asks his friend Ramu, who lives there, to give him some leads. But Ramu cannot think of any. Sri Sri then puts together a few stock shots and makes up a story by fitting in some people and events. Ramu is nervous that the residents of the town will object to this imagined story. On the contrary, he finds people crowding around the television crew to get in their quote and face. “Did you see ‘Oru vaaram oru kathai’ last week? I am there!” How can anyone resist the temptation of being seen on television. But in the end, Sri Sri realises the vacuousness of his stories.

On women empowerment

Veedum Kadhavum, is about two women. I am often asked, “Aren’t things better for women now.” Imayam and Prasanna tell us the reality. In their fifties, one woman is a panchayat president, and the other, a teacher (played by Smrithi Parameswar and Janaki Suresh). We would think they are ‘empowered’. The president has not stepped inside her office after being elected because everything is handled by her husband, including forging her signature. As for the teacher, her husband operates her ATM card. He just leaves some money for her on the table when she needs. The emptiness, the desecration of their dignity came through very well in the story. We have not learnt to respect our women yet.

A scene from Kadaiyalla Vaazhkkai

The dark truth

The darkest and the last — Nanmaran Kottaikkathai. The bull belonging to Muthuraman wins the race and he faces the wrath of the angry, upper caste villagers. Both he and the bull are killed. But his wife, Selvamani, is forced to admit, and sign on a paper that Muthuraman was gored to death by the bull. To save her children from torture and humiliation, she decides to leave the village, but is unable to get TC from the school. Prasanna employs music and dance movements to great effect in this story. Melodi Dorcas plays both Muthuraman and Selvamani exceedingly well.

All the actors seemed to understand what the stories demanded of them, and were exceptional. For instance, it was difficult to believe that the grieving, angry, and determined Selvamani was played by the same actor, who played the Gnanalaya teacher. Even the costumes had a role to play. The backdrops, drawn and projected on the screen, were effective, so were the music, and lighting. Prasanna had two chorus actors, Raghavendra and Jenny, to mark the movement from one story to another. Kadhaiyalla Vaazhkkai brought alive the nuances in Imayam’s stories.

The writer is a former judge of the Madras High Court.

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