In the name of honour

A still from ‘Yakshikathakalum Nattu Varthamanangalum’   | Photo Credit: Thulasi Kakkat

The stares of the men linger longer, especially when the woman is all alone and vulnerable. They always return, like moths drawn to a flame. Perhaps this gives an extra dimension to the lanterns that male actors carry as they swarm around the woman protagonist of the play ‘Yakshikathakalum Nattu Varthamanangalum' (The Fables of Yakshi and Rustic Lore).

Fresh treatment

The play, which won awards for the best play, the best female actor and the best playwright at this year's competition for amateur plays organised by Kerala Sangeeta Nataka Akademi, was staged in Kochi recently, to a packed audience.

Vinod Kumar, playwright and director of the play, definitely brought in a fresh treatment to the subject. Says Vinod Kumar: “The play problematizes the politics of the body; especially the politics involved in the social ascription of responsibility tothe woman who resides alone to protect her body.” But he did not tag the play with any ‘isms,' and just got along with the narrative – much like in a folk tale.

The play progresses as the men of the village vie to ‘protect' Pournami, wife of local hero Kunjananthan, in the hope that they might get a chance to get close to her. Kunjananthan has been imprisoned on charges of murdering a man in a duel while he was on his way home with his new bride.

Pournami finds it hard to get a peaceful night's sleep, as the men try to find some excuse to hang around her. She manages to ward off their advances, inspired by the freedom of a lunatic woman – portrayed with bundles of energy by Sneha Sreekumar – who appears only in the night.

And spurned love triggers rumours. First they say that Pournami has an incurable disease that spreads through blood. Then they brand her as a Yakshi who lures men to their death. Pournami's claims that she can communicate with Kunjananthan who is in prison only fuels the rumours.

The village awaits Kunjananthan's return and the men make elaborate arrangements to witness the husband slaying his ‘wayward' wife. Murder happens at many levels, throughout the play; the most vicious one being the systematic murder of Pournami's character – through rumours and ostracism. As it is with any folk tale where all ends well, the many layers of narrative dove-tail to tell the men who are anxiously waiting for Pournami's murder, and the audience as well, that it was all just a play within a play.

Surabhi C.M., a student of theatre at Sree Sankaracharya University of Sanskrit, brought out Pournami's angst with poise. She spurned cliches and breathed life into the character as the play progressed. The male actors, who played the chorus, complemented her.

Subtle editing and toning down of the background score would have bettered the play. Even these glitches can well be overlooked, as the play was intelligently designed. The two women characters dominated the crowd of males on the stage – Pournami with her feminine charm and the lunatic woman with her unbridled sense of freedom. They both challenged the boundaries set by a male-oriented society and emerged victorious, and the play celebrated the strength of womanhood without making any pretensions.

At the end of nearly two hours, the play assured theatre buffs that all is not lost in amateur theatre in Kerala. The play was presented under the aegis of the Bank Employees' Art Movement, Ernakulam (BEAME) at the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan Hall.

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Printable version | Jun 14, 2021 4:18:25 PM |

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