Friday Review

By the banks of Chandragiri

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Rangapayana’s passionate performance of Chandragiri Teeradalli had the audience in tears

C handragiri Teeradalli, the famous novel by Sara Aboobacker (translated into English as Breaking Ties) is unique in that it is the first, subjective account of women’s lives in the Muslim communities of coastal Karnataka and Kerala. This literary work is hailed for its simplicity of cadence in conveying complex structures of misogyny characteristic in the community. Its straightforward plot is easy to be rendered into a play: although as a play it can quickly get categorised under ‘social drama’ in yesteryear’s classification imposing its own aesthetic grammar on it, Nayana Sooda’s direction of Roopa Koteshwar’s script based on this novel makes it a musical that is disturbing yet entertaining.

A demonstration of the bhuta kola – the ritual of spirit worship practiced in South Canara – followed by a clownish character, the village boatman ‘breaking the fourth wall’, set the geographical context for the story.

Chandragiri Teeradalli is a story of Nadira, a young girl and her struggle with her lack of agency under her manipulative, violent and egotistical father. There was a slightly jarring note in the beginning when the character of Fatima, Nadira’s mother, in the need to have a loud and clear projection, spoke rather robustly – which tended towards the cheerful – about her experience with marital rape. But it proved to be a case of beginner’s nervousness as the actor settled in fairly quickly to carry the pathos more sensitively later on.

Use of door frame to represent houses is a popular set design technique. This play used it interestingly to mark inner and outer spaces within the household. The inner space – which isn’t opaque to the audience – is the woman’s refuge, a place marking her identity whereas the man rules the ‘outside’. Women’s access to the outside, which is limited to the narrow grounds around the house, is in accordance with the man’s wishes; she can do her household chores there, make beedies to earn a living, cook on open fires etc., but she must rush inside at the sight of other men. With the blocking spread out evenly and the set arranged symmetrically, the stage had a very balanced feel to it.

Rajguru Hoskote’s music was a hybrid of live ‘orchestra pit’ performance and recorded renditions that ranged over a variety of styles including traditional Byari paat, bhavageete, sufi music – even a ghazal by Pankaj Udhas. This variety in music is of an interesting postmodern nature: while it brings to the fore the cultural exposition of ‘traditional’ forms, its combination with other popular genres not endemic to the context makes its intent of accessibility and entertainment clear. The ‘pit’ being a part of the auditorium’s well, Hoskote and his team’s multitasking between several instruments – djembe, melodica, keyboard, flute and drum pad – was every bit a part of the play’s performative devices. The lighting, which relied mostly on colours to highlight times of the day and set off the moods of the actors, was a seamless part of the visual design.

The characters of Nadira, Ameenamma and Muhammad Khan shone through great acting. The actor who played the roles of the sagely maulvi, the cheerful boatman and the comic relief Shetty, was much appreciated for his chameleon-like makeovers in character. The entire play was intense and passionate and seemed to strike the right emotional chords as the sharp intakes of breath, sighs and sniffs in the auditorium were very real.

Chandragiri Teeradalli is important as it keeps alive the debate about “personal political” issues of marital rape and triple talaaq which haven’t ceased to be ‘current’ in India for decades now.

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Printable version | Jan 19, 2020 9:08:05 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/By-the-banks-of-Chandragiri/article14425940.ece

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