Theatre

The stage is set

At the helm: Mukesh, the newly appointed chairman of the Sangeet Natak Akademi. Photo: K.K. Najeeb   | Photo Credit: K.K. Najeeb

That evening is still fresh in his mind. More than 2,000 people waited with bated breath; among them were some of the biggest names in Malayalam literature, cinema and theatre. And he managed to floor each of them with ‘Chayamukhi,' the play he had produced and acted in. Mukesh firmly believes that that evening was a turning point in his life.

“To do theatre had been a burning ambition for me even as I was enjoying my life as a successful actor in cinema,” Mukesh told Friday Review, shortly after he was appointed Chairman of the Sangeetha Nataka Akademi.

Turning point

“I believe ‘Chayamukhi' is one of the main reasons behind this recognition. I was delighted when a television channel called me up to break the news while I was shooting for my latest film; this is indeed a great honour. Until Culture Minister M.A. Baby sought my consent for the post, I hadn't, even in my wildest dreams, thought of heading one of Kerala's important cultural institutions,” says Mukesh, who is also basking in the success of his latest film, ‘In Ghost House Inn.'

Turning a trifle sentimental, he says the chairmanship of the Sangeetha Nataka Akademi was something he had expected for his late father, O. Madhavan, one of the stalwarts of Malayalam theatre. “He was a member of the Akademi and I had thought he would be its chairman one day, but that was not to be. It seems I am destined to do what my father could not,” he says.

Mukesh adds he is honoured to follow in the footsteps of a thespian like Murali, who was the previous Akademi chairman.

“On the day I took charge as the Chairman at the Akademi office in Thrissur, I was looking at the names of my predecessors. When I saw there names like K.T. Mohammed, P. Bhaskaran, Yesudas …, I felt a bit nervous and proud at the same time,” he says. Mukesh adds that though he has never planned his career, luckily, things eventually fall into place for him.

“I have been always been able to bounce back and surprise people. When my first film, ‘Balloon,' flopped, everyone had written me off and said I could have become a lawyer if I hadn't decided to become an actor. But when ‘Ithu Njangalude Katha' became a hit, the same people said ‘Balloon' had flopped because the film was bad and not because I was a bad actor.”

But then the actor has always kept reinventing himself and is one of the few successful actors in Malayalam cinema who also made it big on the small screen. This was at a time when television was treated as a poor cousin of cinema.

“When I decided to anchor ‘Koteeshwaran' on Surya TV, everyone said I was making a huge mistake, as the inevitable comparisons with Amitabh Bachchan, who had caught the nation's fancy with ‘Kaun Banega Crorepati,' would do me more harm than good. But my show was a huge success. When I wanted to do a proper play, almost everyone was sceptical and nobody expected a masterpiece like ‘Chayamukhi.' Now, look where that play has taken me,” Mukesh says.

Drama fete

Mukesh is determined to go ahead with the Akademi's successful international drama festival. “Murali had done an excellent job of conducting the festival, especially by bringing plays from Africa and other Asian countries. I have plans of making it even bigger, by including Latin American theatre.”

The new Chairman also has plans to promote other art forms. “I am thinking of having a major festival of music. And I would also like to focus on our folk arts, which are often marginalised,”' he says.

He says his main goal as the Akademi chairman is to raise the profile of theatre in Kerala and to create awareness about theatre among Malayalis. “Somehow, our audiences do not take theatre seriously enough. Whenever I travel to Europe or the United States with Mohanlal, we make it a point to see major theatre productions there. While watching plays, along with thousands of spectators at Broadway, I often wondered why theatre isn't so big back home, in spite of having so many talented actors and playwrights. As ‘Chayamukhi' proved, spectators will make the effort to come to a theatre to watch a quality production.”

Mukesh, however, does not want to rest on the laurels of ‘Chayamukhi' despite its phenomenal success. “I will be producing another play soon. It would be a small, cost-effective play that can be staged at short notice,” he says.

Mukesh avers that the thrill of a live stage performance is quite special and cannot be compared to anything else.

“Before joining cinema, I had acted for one full year in my father's troupe, Kalidasa Kala Kendra. That year, I did 325 shows as an actor, but never felt bored despite travelling for most of the day. When an actor hears the first bell for the day, all problems are forgotten. That is the magic of theatre.”

As the Chairman of the Akademi, Mukesh wants to take that magic to more and more people.


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Printable version | Sep 19, 2021 7:42:59 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/theatre/The-stage-is-set/article16371961.ece

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