Full of clichés

"Shyamalam" - a Tamil play by Dummies. Photo: S.R. Raghunathan  

The Summer Drama Festival organised by Kartik Fine Arts has been consistently promoting the cause of Tamil mainstream theatre. The Kodai Nataka Vizha annually premieres nine plays but this year there were a dozen. The festival was held from April 22 to May 3 at the Narada Gana Sabha hall, Chennai. There was quite a good response to the plays to which entrance was free.

There is an old world charm in waiting for a play to begin as it is preceded by the muffled sound of prayers being offered behind the closed curtain, and the tinkling of the prayer bell. But when it comes to theme and presentation, one expects something new. Unfortunately, when the screen opened on the inaugural play ‘Sollathan Ninaikkiraen' written by Ezhichur Aravindan and directed by Mappillai Ganesh, one saw the familiar sets, with artificial flowers in brackets on the wall and the much viewed interior of a middle class home. And my heart sank.

The feeling of anticipation gave place to déjà vu as the familiar scenes of the daughter-in-law harassing her elderly widowed father-in-law were played out. With the entrance of stock figure of the next door neighbour, a true friend of the old man, and the refusal of the daughter-in-law to provide a meal for the latter, things went from bad to worse. The woman was of course a shrew who dominates over her long suffering husband.

Dearth of ideas

The dialogue was full of contrived puns. The scene of the of the imagined arrival of the grandchild showed a completed dearth of ideas, though the friends (Mapillai Ganesh and Sai Ramesh) threw themselves soulfully into their parts. It is time for the long suffering viewer to say adieu and it was certainly not a good idea to begin the festival with this play.

Dummies Drama's ‘Shyamalam' by Sreevathson was looked forward to especially since the groups's play ‘Athithi' last year was exceptionally good; it had an unusual story line handled with great sensitivity. This time writer-director Sreevathson decided to focus on the theme of attachment to an ancestral home: how a house is not mere brick and mortar but is invested with memories and defines a quality of life.

Young Pranesh (R.B. Krishna) is bent on obtaining the signatures of his father Ramdas (V.Sridhar), his wife Shanmathi (Preethi Hari), his brother Avinash (Vinod) and his aunt Lakshmi (Prema Sadasivam) to enable him to sell their spacious ancestral home when the going is good. The will of his grandmother Shyamala (Kavitha) makes it a necessary condition that all family members sign on the document.

We learn of how Shyamala and her husband Venkataraman (Sreevathson) managed to build the house and how she tended it lovingly making it a dwelling of warmth and beauty. The far- sighted grandmother wishes future generations to benefit and hence lays down numerous conditions for its sale as Shanmathi discovers as she reads her old diary. After Shyamala's death, the house finds a champion in her elder son Sundaram (Krishnamurthy) and despite problems that crop up, it remains with the family.

A major part of the plot is taken up quite unnecessarily by depicting the neighbour's crazy son Giri (Giridharan), who is in love with Sundaram's young daughter Lakshmi (Nithya Koushik). But she rejects him and elopes. What is the fate of the house finally? Is Shyamala's will respected?

The theme of attachment to one's home was fine but it could have been dealt with better. The plot was wafer thin. Although there were a few interesting segments such as the flashback featuring a charming Kavitha and a dignified Sreevathson, and the final scene between Prema Sadasivam and Preethi Hari, the play jogged along without providing any fresh insights.

It seemed as if every time the playwright was at a loss, he invoked the ghost of Shyamala to fill up the gap. We did not see any memorable event take place in the house to make us relate to it or feel involved about its fate. The dialogue comparing life in a flat to that of a house of this kind was feeble.

‘Athithi' is definitely a hard act to follow as ‘Shyamalam' despite being neatly directed and endowed with a soothing pace and mellow music, showed. The comic touches sought to be introduced by imitating a superstar were far from novel. The actor who played the young Ramdas was quite miscast. That, however, was not the case of the actors who played the teenage or the child Lakshmi. Apoorva was endearing with her mischievous smile and twinkling eyes.

It was finally Prema Sadasivam who made a fine impact with her mature handling of the clinching dialogue. The role was played by her with understanding, conviction and grace. The sets of the old house were fine except for the wobbly pillars.

In all, a play that did not deliver as much as it promised. Still, it was far better than the other plays witnessed by this writer at the festival.

Sowmya's ‘Karuppu Aadugal' by T.V. Radhakrishnan dealt with the theme of corruption, both topical and relevant. But the play was loud and melodramatic. Siva (Jaisurya), a terrorist escapes the police net and seeks refuge in the house of an elderly doctor (Karur Rangaraj). He is injured and the doctor treats him. But the terrorist refuses to leave till he receives a message from the leader of his organisation. Tension supposedly builds up when a police inspector and the doctor's friend pay repeated visits to the house.

The play advocated that corruption be rooted out but focused on violent and unpalatable means to do so. Flashbacks were a dime a dozen. “On that day…” the character intoned and with much creaking of sets, a flashback was thrust upon you. But then who was the leader of the organisation? Yet another flashback and the truth was revealed. The last speech was monopolised by Siva with the others looking on mutely.

Other clichéd elements were the investigative reporter who thankfully did not appear, the suspicious policeman and the venal politician. Karur was his usual mellow self in the play which had a dated quality.

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Printable version | Jul 23, 2021 6:13:01 AM |

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