Humour, psychology and mystery

DRAMA Plays of different shades were presented at the Brahma Gana Sabha festival. SUGANTHY KRISHNAMACHARI

A fter a hard day's work, it is always nice to unwind, with something that makes you laugh. To that extent, Sathya Sai Creations' ‘Mama Maaplae,' staged on August 1, for the Brahma Gana Sabha, succeeded. The play was nothing but a mix up over the identity of two persons, and the events that follow in the family of Arunachalam (Maappillai Ganesh). Arunachalam's father-in-law, Gnanasambandam and his brother-in-law Kandasamy live with Arunachalam, completely dependent on his income. Arunachalam never has a moment of privacy with his wife. Kandasamy is unemployed, and Arunachalam tries to find him a job.

The humour in the play, directed by Mappillai Ganesh, was contrived, although some of the jokes were good. However, jokes alone are not enough to sustain a play. In ‘Mama Maaplae,' there wasn't much of a story. The actors just moved from one joke to another in this situational comedy.

Mappillai Ganesh as Arunachalam and Korattur Lakshmanan as Censor Chengalvarayan played their roles well. Sai Ramesh as the father-in-law Gnanasambandan, could not be faulted on his dialogue delivery, but the way he kept covering his mouth with a towel after every goof up that put Arunachalam in a tricky situation, was annoying. The repetitive gesture gave one the feeling of watching a wound up toy.

Pazhani, who did a small role as Sanku Kesavan, spoke the Chennai lingo charmingly, but he seemed to have been included just to enhance the comic element. And since the play didn't have a story, it didn't seem to matter who came on stage, as long as the audience was tickled. Gnanasambandam's affair with Yamini, the servant maid, was not in good taste.

If you are just hoping to have an evening of fun you are bound to like ‘Mama Maaplae.' But if you would also like to carry home a story with you, this is not the play for you. A play without jokes is understandable. But jokes without a story?

Two sides of nature

Shakespeare said that a good deed shines in a naughty world. Can one get by with the aid of unalloyed goodness in a naughty world? That is the question which Rail Priya's ‘Enakkul Iruvar' (story, dialogue, direction - Ananthu), staged on July 31 explores.

Pattabhi (Ananthu) is the ingenuous nephew of Ambalavanan and Maragatham (Srimathi). Maragatham is a clever, unscrupulous businesswoman, who doesn't think twice about doctoring the accounts of her company. Pattabhi protests and insists on honesty in all business transactions. And just when Pattabhi's honesty and naivete have earned the ire of his family and of those in his aunt's business, Pattabhi's still small voice begins to stir.

Pattabhi's inner voice has a good side and a bad side to it. The two sides of his conscience get embodied as a ‘good guy' and a ‘bad guy,' although they are visible only to Pattabhi, and not to others around him. Because of Pattabhi's conversations with the good and bad sides of his conscience, everyone around him thinks he has lost his mental balance.

Not all the advice that the ‘bad guy' gives Pattabhi, however, is really wicked. He advises Pattabhi on how to woo Priya (Sweta), the psychiatrist. He tells Pattabhi to be assertive and to stand up for his rights, a sound piece of advice. However, when the bad guy oversteps his limits, and advises Pattabhi to murder Maragatham, Pattabhi pays no heed to him. There is an incorruptible core of goodness in Pattabhi. And yet, when the time comes to bid goodbye to the good and bad representatives of his conscience, Pattabhi refuses to completely banish the bad guy, for he has now realised that the bad guy has his uses too.

In life, we sometimes have to be economical with the truth. We need cleverness too, besides goodness. Cleverness acquires negative connotations only if we use our cunning to hurt others. But we do need cleverness, to keep from getting hurt. Cleverness in an individual is like the standing army that a nation has. It is a necessary and effective deterrent in a world full of wily people. And this is brought out clearly in ‘Enakkul Iruvar.'

Ananthu has given a thought provoking and genuinely funny play. The jokes, as for example, the one about ‘benching' in software companies, were contemporary and relevant. Good acting was a bonus.

Devarajan, as Ambalavanan, was barely audible. The music was too loud in the closing scene. But for such minor flaws, ‘Enakkul Iruvar' was, on the whole, a most enjoyable play.

Borrowed Ideas

If a playwright has borrowed a story, he should acknowledge the source, although it is easy to guess the source, when the original is a popular story like W.W. Jacobs' ‘The Monkey's Paw.' The story of Vadhyar Raman's first play staged as part of the Brahma Gana Sabha drama festival, on July 28, was obviously lifted from ‘The Monkey's Paw,' but the original was not acknowledged.

In Raman's play ‘Dhigil,' an amulet took the place of the sinister monkey's paw. But otherwise, everything else was straight out of the original, right down to the isolated house in which the story was set and the characters remarking on the spell of rain in the first scene. The chief protagonist wishing for money to clear the debt on his house was also an idea borrowed from the original.

Malathi Sampath's years of experience on stage showed in her acting. Her anguish at her son's death, the insane gleam in her eyes as she wishes her son would come back to life, her desperate urge to embrace her son, her breakdown when she discovers that he can only exist as a disembodied spirit - all proclaimed her histrionic skills.

The menace in ‘The Monkey's Paw' is more palpable than in Vadhyar Raman's version, which didn't send shivers down one's spine, as the original does. But Malathi Sampath's acting and the crisp dialogue made the play interesting.

The second play titled ‘Dhigil,' and again written and directed by Vadhyar Raman, was a crime thriller. Sumathi (Lakshmi) has frequent hallucinations that someone is trying to kill her. When she receives a phone call from a man, who threatens to kill her, her father-in-law doesn't believe her, for she has cried ‘Wolf' once too often. The story has a surprise twist, which is spoilt by some unbelievably sentimental dialogue from Sumathi, in the last scene. All the sympathy that one had felt for her is lost in the process. What was the need to include such old fashioned ideas in a new fangled tale?

Vadhyar Raman and Ramaswamy, who played the role of his friend, were so natural on stage, that it didn't seem as if they were part of a play at all. They seemed like the elderly people we find having desultory conversations in parks. Both the plays (each running to 45 minutes) were good attempts to steer away from the beaten track, and offered a different genre of theatre to the sabha audience.

The plays were good attempts to steer away from the beaten track.

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