Play for her is a discourse

Female-Centric: Prasanna Ramaswamy  

Landscapes that have been pounded beyond recognition; lives that have been left in jagged shreds; loss of husbands, children and livelihoods - the cataclysmic effects of war on women is a theme director Prasanna Ramaswamy has explored with intensity in her plays. Other themes that recur in her work are exile, displacement and migration. "I believe in doing a discourse and not a narrative," says the director who has made a mark in parallel Tamil theatre. "One does not consciously begin with a certain conclusion but then your politics finds its voice in your works naturally."

Prasanna has directed both Tamil and English plays but Tamil is a natural choice for her. "My cultural identity is Tamil. What I have read and the oral and visual traditions I'm familiar with - Theru-k-koothu, Harikatha, classical, folk music, and dance - are in Tamil. The resonances of the forms you have experienced shape your creativity," she states. "I always start with an image and the play grows from that."

In the western theatre tradition, has not a great deal of work been done on women and war?

"Traditionally, death through martyrdom in war has been valourised whereas life is most precious. And it is women who sustain life and the environment," Prasanna replies.

"After the advent of TV, the way the medium brings the misery of war to the viewer and the manner it eats on it, has disturbed me greatly. Exile - dealt with in my play "Thiraikadalodi (aham)?!" - the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka (the theme of 'Surya Mukham' and other plays), the U.S. war in Vietnam ('Meendum Meendum') or in Iraq ('All Too Real Minus Tomorrow's Children'), and ecological destruction ('Nithyakalyani'), are issues that affect me very much. On the one hand powerful nations talk about climate change and global healing and on the other they continue making arms and testing nuclear missiles. Finally it is the women who are affected."

Nine productions

So, is she a feminist director?

"My work is very strongly female centric and constantly addresses the marginalised and the subaltern. I leave it to you to call it what you want," says Prasanna who has scripted directed and produced nine full-length productions for the stage, besides several short plays, monologues and theatre readings, both in English and Tamil.

Prasanna, who has a strong background in both Tamil and English literature, was impacted by what writer Na. Muthuswamy wrote on the theatre, in the Eighties.

"I also travelled extensively and saw numerous plays in various languages. I particularly admired the way B.V. Karanth worked music in his plays and the work of Kavalam Narayana Panickkar. In the Eighties, the late Bhagirathi Narayan and I did workshops with the Koothu-p-pattarai group for "Konikkaran" - for director John Martin. It was based on John Arden's "Bagman."

Many of the images created formed part of the final production," she recounts. "I then decided to do a play on my own." And her theatre group Paadini was born.

"Ambai's (C.S. Lakshmi"s) 'Ahamum Puramum,' about life in exile and woman's inner space, was the first play I directed," Prasanna informs.

Poems - of Subramania Bharati, of Sukumaran, Manushyaputhiran, Suganthy Subramaniam and the late Athmaram, and Sri Lankan poets - have formed the material for a number of Prasanna's plays such as 'Maranamillai' (in three parts), 'Surya Mukham,' 'Uyir Nizhal' and 'Nadhiyin Karunai.' 'Sriti, Smriti-Kriti' based on V. Sriram's book was on the artistic space for which the devadasis negotiated while "All Too Real" was based on a Hindi story that looks at black marketing and anti-people actions.

"My plays do not rest on a single narration because life needs to be depicted through multiple strands. In my plays, a central stream of emotion is evoked though various resonances {ndash} text, movement and music - that come from different sources - poetry, everyday parlance, news, written text and so on," she says.

"I created "Listen to Me," a solo on the life of Marathi actor Hansa Wadker for Bhagyam (Bhagirati), a sensitive and hard working actor and a close friend." Recently Prasanna directed a solo based on Bharati's " Panchali Sabadam."

A high point was when she was invited by Sheema Kermani, Company director of Tehrik-e-Niswan in Pakistan to do "Zikr-e-na Shunida" in Karachi. The play in Urdu was on "displacement, territorial disputes and the oppression and war of bigger powers over smaller communities". "The play received a wonderful response," she says. "In Pakistan, the English daily Dawn ran an editorial on the play."

Documentaries for DD

Prasanna has scripted and directed documentaries for Doordarshan. And two full-length documentaries, on Carnatic musician Sanjay Subrahmanyam and dancer Malavika Sarukkai. To her goes the credit of bringing art house cinema and filmmakers in conversation with the audience at the Sathyam Cinema with the programme "Lights On."

"In the last ten years, a work has come to be judged by factors such as financial gradation, media hype and sponsorship. Throughout, without institutional or financial support (except from The Hindu) I have been producing and directing plays. But the support I receive from the actors and their conviction in working with me have kept me going," says Prasanna who is known for thinking out-of-the-box and for plays that have a strong contemporary feel.

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Printable version | Sep 23, 2021 11:25:00 PM |

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