‘Theatre should reflect society’

C.L.JosePhoto: K.K. Najeeb   | Photo Credit: K.K.NAJEEB

A t 84, playwright C.L. Jose has many reasons to feel proud of, apart from his singular achievements in theatre over the past six decades. He has also bagged also fetched him the SL Puram award, the highest accolade in theatre from the Kerala state government. He has 36 plays, 75 one-act plays and one children’s play to his credit. Jose has been honoured by both Sahithya Akademi and Sangeetha Nataka Akademi for his contributions to literature and theatre. ‘Manalkkadu’, ‘Jwalanam’ and ‘Yugathrishna’ were prescribed as text books by universities in Kerala. His radio plays ‘Manalkkadu’ and ‘Agnivalayam’ were translated and broadcast by All India Radio in 14 regional languages. Moreover, he is an auditioned actor of AIR for its plays in Nataka Vaaram (Theatre week). He was also Chairman of the Kerala Sangeetha Nataka Akademi during the 90s.

Jose spoke to Friday Review soon after bagging the SL Puram award. Excerpts from an interview…

This is the highest honour a theatre person can get in Kerala. How do you feel?

Yes, this caps all other honours showered on me so far. I am happy that the award is in the name of a thespian; the playwright in me was moulded by reading his plays and also those of his contemporaries such as N.N. Pillai, K.T. Mohammed, Thoppil Bhasi and P.J. Antony. I missed no opportunity to watch them. They haunted me for days on end. This was the real training in theatre for me. And as for SL Puram, it was a proud moment for me when I was invited to unveil his portrait in the hall of fame of Kerala Sahithya Akademi. Now to be selected for the award in his name is a rare honour.

You were the manager of a finance company in Thrissur. How did you become interested in theatre?

At the age of 11, I was picked for the role of a labourer in a drama staged in the Lourdes School here in 1943. Written and directed by our Rappai master, it highlighted the profiteering techniques of ration shop keepers during World War II. Praise from Rappai Master and the staff catapulted me into theatre. Later, I still remember how tears rolled down my cheeks while watching a play staged in St. Thomas College High School. To my surprise, I saw my classmate – the late P. Narendranath – seated next to me with tears in his eyes. This convinced me of the efficacy of the art form to touch our heart. While Narendranath turned into an acclaimed writer of children’s literature, I made forays into plays. ‘Maanam Thelinju’ was my first play in 1956. Soon followed ‘Jeevitham Oru Kodumkaattu’. The response to these two was overwhelming. Since then I never had to look back.

Your plays have been hailed widely for addressing contemporary social issues…

I believe that theatre should serve as a mirror that reflects society in total. Also, it should enlighten society on the evils that exist and help people transform. Issues revolving around drug addiction (‘Meghadwani’), judiciary (‘Manalkkadu’), health (‘Vishakkattu’), abortion (‘Kannikkani’ and ‘Ammakkunju’), mercy killing (‘Aambal Poovinte Aathma Geetham’) and sports (‘Chirakulla Nakshatram’) were some of the themes that clicked.

How do you manage to effectively communicate with the audience?

I write only in the night, in solitude when every one sleeps. As I delve deep into the process, my characters appear before me. The dialogues for each are scripted taking into consideration the social, cultural and academic background of each. I articulate them myself many times and correct them to get the right punch. This is a time-consuming practice. I can write only a page in an hour! But eventually, when the script is completed, I can touch the psyche of the audience with the same intensity with which a topic had touched me.

Every play appeared in print only after it was staged under my direction. I also take care to add basic instructions for those who want to stage them. This has been appreciated by many. That’s why my plays were staged across the globe by Malayali associations. ‘Visuddha Paapam’ (Holy Sin) staged by employees of Air India was the first Malayalam play to be presented in London 30 years ago. Malayalis in Germany followed. I was invited by the Malayali association in Kuwait to direct ‘Meghadwani’. In Dallas, Texas, I presided over the theatre conference organised by FOKANA (Federation of Kerala Associations in North America).

What is your opinion about modern productions?

As for the professional ones, they anchor more on technology thereby creating an ambience of cinema. Nowadays, workshops are organised only for amateur theatre, but there is an urgent need for the same for professional dramatists as well. In the case of amateur theatre, the productions are mainly experimentations. While experimentations are welcome, the amateur plays have distanced themselves from the people. If you need a third person to interpret the play for the audience, I think that play has failed to communicate. This is a serious lacuna.

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Printable version | Apr 21, 2021 1:23:15 AM |

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