Theatre

Theatre is in his blood

Professor. Rajendran. photo S_Thanthoni.   | Photo Credit: S_THANTHONI

‘Chumar Pathrangal,' the Malayalam translation of Na Muthuswamy's ‘Suvarottigal' was staged during the National School of Drama (NSD) festival in Chennai recently. Director K.S. Rajendran had skilfully adapted the Tamil contemporary classic on wall posters, the populist medium that represents the struggle between opposing groups and voices, and the game of one-upmanship. The power and satire of Muthuswamy's play came through with pointed references to the present day political and cultural scenario, and the sycophancy that prevails. The use of the musical instruments of Kerala such as the chenda and the edakka, suitable stage props, and folk performing art forms, made the play visually and aurally effective.

“I feel a strong sense of nostalgia as I'm revisiting this play after 25 years,” says Rajendran, Associate Professor of Drama, NSD, as he talks to this correspondent later. “The play came about in response to a request of the Drama School of Trichur. I define acting as possessing the text bodily. And Muthuswamy's play, where multiple meanings emerge, is a performance text.”

Rajendran, who has directed nearly 35 productions, says he is able to explore even other plays in this way. “For, I have the luxury of being with students all the time and having them act for me.”

The post-Emergency period saw Rajendran's emergence in theatre. This student of English literature, from the University of Madras, attended - like many other theatre veterans today - the workshops conducted by B.V. Karanth in Gandhigram and Badal Sircar in Cholamandal. “I was initially involved with the Veethi group and my first play was G. Sankara Pillai's ‘Moonru Pandithargalum…”

The theatre enthusiast joined Koothu-p-pattarai, the repertory founded by Muthuswamy. “I stayed on to do three or four productions for them,” he says. A fellowship with the Tamil Nadu Council of Historical Research when Badrinath was the Commissioner, enabled him to do a research project on the ‘Theatre of the Dravidian movement.'

Powerful medium

“I was able to unearth banned drama scripts from the Police Commissioner's archives, including a play by the present Chief Minister in incomplete form. Theatre is such a powerful medium of protest and it helped propagate the ideology of the movement. Now it has all changed,” he says ruefully. “Once power was captured, the energy waned. Annadurai, who was compared by Kalki to Bernard Shaw, created classics such as ‘Or Iravu'. There were also great Sanskrit scholars in the Dravidian movement. The fundamental mistake now is to associate Sanskrit with one community – how can ‘gnanam' be associated with one community?” he asks.

Rajendran moved to Delhi in 1988 and qualified from the NSD. “It is very satisfying to be in a professional institution for theatre, and challenging to stage multilingual plays. It is a luxury to be in the theatre all the time,” he says.

Rajendran's forte is Classical Indian drama and he participates in workshops all over the world. In 2006, he was course director for a UNESCO workshop on ‘Ancient Indian Drama' in Bucharest. “In classical drama, the way you present the work is important,” he points out. ‘Mrichakatikam' and ‘Mudrarakshasa' are serious political plays. You have to connect them in a contemporary way. And you have to read them carefully,” says the director who has been able to stage even the infrequently performed ‘Malavikagnimitram' of Kalidasa successfully, making it enjoyable for a modern audience. “The way you connect a play to the audience is important - this is true when you take up plays by Western playwrights as well,” he avers.

Rajendran has made a mark in various styles, genres and languages. He staged Indira Parthasarathy's Tamil play ‘Aurangazeb' in Urdu translation so that it would have the authentic Mughal flavour, and Subramania Bharati's ‘Panchali Sabatham' in Theru-k-koothu style. “But the dissemination of new plays is happening at a slow pace in the country. Previously, ENACT, the theatre journal undertook translations in every language.” says Rajendran, who is the editor of Theatre India, the English journal of the NSD.

Dance drama

No realistic play will survive the onslaught of TV and cinema, he feels. “So I want to develop a dance theatre. I won't say I'm successful but I'm trying… I collaborate with Kalari artists and dancers trained at the Kalakshetra. I'm working at present on ‘Urva She' for the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan. My next play is on the Devadasis - not a scholarly analysis but the performative aspect,” he explains. “Dance doyen Dhananjayan wants to write a new Natya Sastra. I would like to be associated with the project.”

And is he happy he is in Delhi? “Yes. But unhappy (as) I'm not doing justice to my language though I try to direct Tamil plays whenever I can,” he says with the directness and honesty that characterise his replies.

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Printable version | Apr 9, 2021 8:54:55 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/theatre/Theatre-is-in-his-blood/article15448135.ece

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