Presentation was slick but…


EMOTION-CHARGED: Pournami.   | Photo Credit: Photo: R. Ravindran


Though well directed, K. Balachander’s Pournami could have had a better theme.

When a legend in the Tamil theatre returns to the scene after a long hiatus, expectations rise to the moon. Old timers wait eagerly for a visit to the halcyon past and younger viewers for the opportunity to witness the magic they missed. This makes for enormous pressure even for a veteran of stage and screen who made waves with his ‘Edhir Neechal” and other plays — a director who created actors, who also became legends.

Kavithalaya Theatre’s “Pournami” presented by Kartik Fine Arts at the Narada Gana Sabha hall marked K. Balachander’s comeback to the stage. The director, pushing 80, showed that his zest for the theatre has not abated in the least and his hands on the reins are sure and steady. The play was preceded by a moving dedication to the late Nagesh.

The play was conceptualised with the wide sweep of the cinema and the production values matched the vision. The sets had a good sheen; each artefact and piece of furniture had been placed with care to take the viewer straight into the living room of a typical middle class Tamil home. Into this comforting atmosphere comes a typhoon. In a moment, the familar world of this family topples. Through a single disastrous incident they are thrust into the eye of the storm, becoming victims of ruthless power games and political machinations. Issues of terrorism, international politics and espionage burst upon them.

It all starts on a full-moon night. The sky darkens for Pournami, the heroine(Renuka) when it is known that her husband Navneet(Prem Sai) who works in a private firm has been kidnapped by terrorists; they dub him a spy when he visits Pakistan on work. Then begins a period of trauma for the young wife . Along with her in varying degrees are affected other members of her husband’s family (with whom the couple live). Her young and impetuous brother-in-law Sundar ( T.M. Karthik ), who is impatient at getting his brother released, her rather helpless and lethargic father-in-law Sethuraman( Ravikanth), her mother-in-law Dhanam (Lakshmi) who is quite a dominating wife, and the just betrothed young sister-in-law Bhama (Kavya), a cell phone addict.

Hope comes in the form of a long absent cousin of Dhanam (Poovilangu Mohan), a major general — what else would he be called but “Chandrakant?” The influential army officer arranges for the wife to speak to her husband and the Prime Minister. But does this help in setting her husband free? The climax of the play revolves round this. Adding “comic relief” is the character of the middle aged woman who will soon be Bhama’s mother-in-law.

Unerringly done

In presentation, the play conceived and directed by Balachander was notches above the usual sabha theatre production. The director extracted the last ounce from the emotion charged dialogue (“Dummies” Srivatson). Each gesture of the actors and placement of the characters was done unerringly. Lights played their parts well and the background score by Giridharan was excellent. The team of seasoned actors gave an impassioned performance. From a rather too loud and over-agitated beginning — nervousness? — Renuka got into the feel of the character, her uncontrollable weeping after the telephone conversation with her husband capping an emotional portrayal. But maybe, a little more restraint would have enhanced it.

The role of the major was played with a sure touch by Poovilangu Mohan. The typical Balachander stamp was there with the major’s refrain “Main Hoon Na” to deal with any situation. But the character of the cell-phone obsessed Bhama, though helping to make a relevant point, was overdone. Simply over the top was an amply proportioned Fatima Babu, dressed to kill as the curious and flashy mother-in-law — a caricature if there was one. The script could have accommodated more pauses and silences.

The values of sacrifice, patriotism and courage in the face of adversity were all there, evoking empathy and touching a chord in the audience. (But was there a shade of the jingoistic?) Throughout there were strong touches of the film, ‘Roja” that had a similar theme about a wife’s struggle to win back her husband from terrorists.

Was the audience perhaps quite happy to be swept along, on a flood of words, into not unfamiliar territory with the typical Balachander touches comfortingly in place? All the essential ingredients of sabha theatre were in tact — humour, suspense and sentiment. For those who hoped for the unusual, the extraordinary and the revolutionary, a fusion of the creativity and ideas of parallel theatre with the appeal of the mainstream from a director, who has both the talent and the wherewithal to achieve it, “Pournami” did not fulfil their expectations. The mainstream, it seems, finds it difficult to come out of the groove and shake off its past, even at the hands of a veteran. “Pournami” was sabha theatre but with a strong facelift. A choice of the right theme would be a winner in the theatre for this passionate director, one feels.

Recommended for you