Where was the thrill?

Scenes from Shakthi. Photo: R. Shivaji Rao  

‘Wait until dark,’ the Broadway play by Frederick Knott, which was later made into a film, suffers from inherent weaknesses. It is not a story of ideas. Nor is it a story of action. It demands a great deal of credulity on the part of the viewer. The film was a drag, and if at all it succeeded, it was mainly because of the performance of the winsome Audrey Hepburn.

Although the film was labelled a thriller, it was only in the last half an hour or so, that the tension built up, leading to the thrilling denouement. But until then, the film plodded along painfully. Any adaptation therefore, is bound to suffer from the same weaknesses as the original. For it to be rescued from plumbing the depths of boredom, it requires superlative acting, which was not in evidence in ‘Shakthi,’ UAA’s adaptation, directed by Madhuvanthi Arun.

The story

Shakthi is a story which is set in the 1960s or Seventies. YGM, who put in a guest appearance as a drunkard, attempted at some comedy. Was it necessary to waste his talent so? To this writer who had seen his excellent performance recently, in the plays staged to mark UAA’s 60th year, the contrast was obvious. Madhuvanthi was not convincing as a blind woman. Mahathi as Meena just hammed her way through.

The revolving stage did not actually add anything to the play, which could just as well have been done on a single-set. (Such a stage was first designed by Art Ranganna for Jaishankar’s play, ‘Ninaivu,’ in the Seventies.) The standard too was not one expected of Thota Tharani.

A little more taste could have been shown in selecting the two chairs, which were in a violent shade of pinkish red. Sureshwar, as the arch villain Albert, was more annoying than frightening. The last scene, which should have provided nail biting, edge of the seat thrills, didn’t even excite a gasp.

Pioneering effort

‘Wait until dark’ is not new to Tamil theatre. A year after it was released in Safire in the late 1960s, it was adapted for the stage by a drama enthusiast called P. Padhu, who, together with his friends T.P. Sarathy and Kalpana, started a drama troupe called ‘Udhaya Fine Arts.’ With no financial support from anyone, the threesome put in their money to come up with a wonderful set for the play, which they titled ‘Irul.’

“The set was made by Dass of Ramaswamy Naidu and Sons. ARS was a great support to us. He guided us on what kind of set would give the best dramatic effects,” says Sarathy, who played the role which Alan Arkin played in the film. Old timers recall that Sarathy had looked menacing in the role, especially when he had made the final leap at the heroine. “When we staged the play for Ilango Kalai Mandram, a pregnant woman in the audience was so frightened that she went into labour. The next day Dinamani carried a report on how the menacing villain in the play hastened a baby boy’s entry into this world!” laughs Sarathy. Director C.V. Sridhar liked Sarathy’s performance so much that he offered him the role of villain in his film, ‘Utharavindri Ullae Vaa.’

Padhu was determined that the play should not suffer for want of funds. So he sold his motorbike to buy a refrigerator, which was crucial for the last scene. Padhu’s efforts earned for him the moniker ‘Irul Padhu.’

In the last scene, Kalpana, who played the heroine in ‘Irul,’ would break the bulbs on stage, for darkness gave her an advantage over the villain. Often fragments would get into Kalpana’s eyes. After every show, she would be taken to ophthalmologist Doraiswamy of West Mambalam. He advised Kalpana to close her eyes when she did the breaking, but she refused, because she felt it would mar her realistic performance. Music for the play was by Williams, who used to play the violin in a church orchestra.

“We had umpteen re-recording rehearsals, because the music played a significant role in building up the tension. For later shows, Kamesh-Rajamani did the music. For one show, the music was by Ilayaraja and Gangai Amaran. The play was staged 150 times, and toured Bombay, Andhra and Karnataka,” recounts Sarathy.

“In Raja Annamalai Mandram, there would be three shows in a day. Jaishankar suggested we produce a film based on the story, with one difference. The hero, instead of the heroine, would be visually challenged. Padhu, Kalpana and I put in 25,000 (rupees) each to produce the film. Jaishankar put in 60,000, but magnanimously insisted that we call ourselves the producers of the film,” says Sarathy. The film, titled ‘Idhayam Parkiradhu,’ had Jai in the lead and Jaichitra as his pair. Lyrics were by Kannadasan and music was by T.R. Paappa. Kannadasan returned half the money he received as payment, because this was the first venture of Udhaya Fine Arts.

The next play of the troupe was ‘Trap’, based on Agatha Christie’s ‘Mouse Trap.’ “K. Gopalakrishnan gave us ideas on how to design the sets, for he had seen the play in London.” For this play, the troupe experimented with platforms mounted on pulleys, which, when operated, would propel the platform forward. Thus they gave the audience a zoom effect, such as one sees in films! The third play was also a thriller titled ‘Terror.’

Udhaya Fine Arts later produced a Malayalam film – ‘Siva Thandavam,’ starring Kamalhassan. Another Malayalam film titled ‘Vyamoham’ (a remake of ‘Policekaran Magal’) followed in 1978, this time with music by Ilayaraja. This film, incidentally, marked Ilayaraja’s entry into Malayalam films. “Ilayaraja refused to specify what he wanted as payment, because we were friends of long standing. It is the kindness of many such persons that helped middle class people such as Padhu, Kalpana and myself survive in Tamil theatre and filmdom,” signs off Sarathy on an emotional note.

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Printable version | May 7, 2021 11:06:46 PM |

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