In search of water

A still from Water Photo: M. Karunakaran  

There’s only so much humankind can endure. But the people of Athipatti, a village in Tirunelveli district, will tell you a different story. Water-starved for five years, the village is ignored by the government and politicians alike. The heart-wrenching play by Komal Swaminathan set new standards for storytelling, when it premièred as Thanneer Thanneer in 1980.

Director K. Balachander took it to a whole new level with his movie of the same name in 1981. The Madras Players’ Water, the English version of the play, gives the present generation a chance to experience the genius of the playwright.

Two decades after the play was written, the issue it deals with is still eerily familiar in the dry belts of our country. Staged over the weekend, The Madras Players’ rendition sucked us deep into the story right from the start. The play began with the arrival of a strange young man in the village in the dead of night. Curious villagers emerge from their thatch-roofed huts, bearing hurricane lanterns, and ask the stranger’s identity — the man claims to be a traveller and takes refuge at a thinnai for the night.

The dawn brings with it a new beginning to the water-starved village. As the story unfolds, we meet its various inhabitants — the school master Vaithilingam (P.C. Ramakrishna), the old man with a limping gait Kandhaiyan (D. Ramachandran) and his daughter Sevanthi (Meenu Srinivasan who resembles actor Saritha in the film adaptation of the play), Kovalu (Dushyanth Gunashekar), the fiery young man… Soon, their story becomes ours and we hope that all their problems come to an end.

The new arrival, who claims he’s Vellaisamy (S. Sundar), offers to operate a water-cart from Thenoothu, a spring some 14 kms away, every day to meet the water requirements of the villagers.

Tired as they are with all the bureaucratic red-tape and politicians who don’t keep their word, the villagers initially are resistant to the new proposal. But they later agree to pool in Rs. 2 each to buy a cart.

It’s revealed that Vellaisamy is a runaway convict who’s guilty of committing two murders. Soon, Athipatti gets the attention of the media when the villagers boycott the elections. A journalist arrives on the scene and the story gathers steam.

Full of the new-found hope that Vellaisamy gives them, the inhabitants of Athipatti get ready for the project of their lifetime — the man proposes that they dig a 7-km-long canal from the spring to the village.

Rejoice, rejoice! The canal is dug. The people dance in joy on the day it is to be opened. But wait. Life isn’t that easy. The police find out that Vellaisamy is hiding in the village, and worse, the PWD puts an end to all their grand plans — an officer says that the canal has been dug without their permission.

Water is a tragedy that haunts. More so when the director P.C. Ramakrishna mentions that he recently came across a newspaper report about a water-starved village near Kovilpatti. Some things never change.

Among the highlights of the play were the acting, the dialogues — Dushyanth Gunashekar’s dialogue delivery and body language brought an angry young man before our eyes — the set (set and light design by Victor Paulraj and Team Studio 7), and the interludes and voiceovers (words and lyrics used are said to be from the original Tamil script).

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Printable version | Jul 23, 2021 8:45:39 PM |

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