FRIDAY REVIEW

When will they try to be different?

KAUSALYA SANTHANAM

``Maadha Sambalam''... travails of a retired employee.

``Maadha Sambalam''... travails of a retired employee.  

ATTENDING THE Kodai Nataka Vizha of the Kartik Fine Arts at the R.R. Sabha Hall is like travelling in a time capsule to the past. The musicians playing familiar tunes in the pit and the sets, jokes and the format of the plays that remain almost unchanged. Is it nostalgia that brings in the viewers — that comforting cloak of familiarity? The reaction the plays evoke seems to affirm this as the sentimental plays receive much applause.

The need for tolerance and understanding among those belonging to different religious faiths, the problem of unemployment and its tragic fall-outs, and the glorification of our tradition and culture, were some of the themes that came under spotlight during the festival (held for the 13th year) in which nine plays were presented.

In ``Maatram,'' presented by Creative Group, the writer (Shankar B) balanced on the razor's edge as he dealt with the subject of conversion and the implications of embracing a religion without understanding it or your own. Despite choosing such an inflammatory topic, the playwright managed to get away without embroiling himself in a controversy because of the deft handling.

When does one seek divine help? When one is at the end of one's tether and when a loved one is critically ill. Raghu (Venkatraman), a college student who can barely make both ends meet, finds himself desperately seeking divine intervention when his mother, Meenakshi (Savitri Anantharaman), in his native village, is almost at death's door. His friend Rahmeth (Ravi) comes to his aid. Convinced by his friend, Raghu decides to convert. It is only through tragedy and loss that both he and his friend realise what faith means. The lawyer (Sethu) helps them, through his incisive arguments, to clear their blurred vision. From a humorous character, Sethu becomes a serious figure placing things in perspective.

The roles were acted well and the dialogue well thought out. The last scene where the lawyer reveals his own faith cleverly pre-empted any murmurs of dissent and anger the play might provoke.

``Maatram'' was a bold attempt to tackle a social problem while the cauldron is still boiling but made one wonder whether it was necessary to deal with a theme like this at a time like this when things can so easily go wrong. Is it necessary to go so near the flame. Crisp direction made the effort easy viewing when it could have become tedious.

``Maadha Sambalam'' by Karaikudi Kalai Arangam had a topical theme, as the spectre of unemployment stalks so many homes. The play elicited very good response as it dealt with the travails of a retired government employee Padmanabhan (Korattur Lakshmanan) who uses up his life savings to benefit his two sons and daughter. The elderly protagonist is a familiar figure on the sabha theatre scene and he generally receives a great deal of sympathy for the suffering he is subject to by his ungrateful children.

Here though the elder son and daughter spurn the father, the younger son Kiran (Maappillai Ganesh) and his wife Ramya (Abhiksha), are his support and stay. Kiran and Ramya lose their jobs and the three undergo great privation.

There were some sensitive portions which helped elevate the play. The reference to the working women's plight, for one. The double burden under which the middle class woman struggles was poignantly brought out in the dialogue. The need for men to share the household chores was also touched upon.

Though the play in the first half portrayed the helplessness and suffering of the characters in moderation these elements were overplayed in the second half. The well written but verbose dialogue left one reeling under the impact. The friend (Moorthy) and his father (Chelladurai) who come to the trio's rescue from time to time lifted one's spirits somewhat. The play (writer Karaikudi Narayanan) which was moving in parts, was a throwback to the heavy `social dramas' in vogue on cinema 40 years age. Directed by Korattur Lakshmanan, it went down very well with the audience.

The stress on the greatness of Indian (read Tamil) culture was taken to almost a jingoistic degree in Rathi Devi Fine Arts' ``Kannil Theriyum Gopurangal'' by Puduvai Mukundan. But for once, a Tamil play had a couple rooting for an American girl as their daughter-in-law.

The middle aged philanthropic minded Dharmambal (Devi) with the support of her lawyer husband Suryamurthy (Giridharan) runs a home for the children of convicts. Mekala (Ramya Lakshmi) who has grown up in her care is the daughter of a condemned prisoner. The couple's son Arun (Govindarajan) who is on a short term course in the U.S. befriends Lily (Ramya) who loses her parents in the September 11 crash (!) and persuades Arun to take her to Chennai on his return as she develops a great liking for Tamil culture. Dharmambal is so impressed with Lily that she decides Arun should marry her. But Mekala gets jilted and Dharmambal's plans are upset.

The play had some elaborate and carefully thought up dialogue by Puduvai Mukundan, (also the director). Mekala's dialogue overflowing with similes and analogies had liberal dashes of sentiment.

Devi, Ramya and Lakshmi put in good performances while Giridharan overacted at places. The portions featuring Malaichamy, Mekala's cousin were dragged out and in the final scene, one wondered why the groom's father screams and rants so. The impertinent clerk (Pazhani) is a stock character who harks back to the past.

The sartorial splendour of Dharmambal offered quite a spectacle. The saris heroines wear in some of the mainstream plays are an offence to the eye. They come in the brightest colours and the most bizarre combinations.

The plays witnessed were quite neat and well handled (or perhaps one was just lucky). But judging from the sample, there was nothing very new. ``Pattabhi Parak parak" was slightly different, one heard. One summer after another, the viewer waits to see something different yet acceptable and appealing — plays that are enjoyable and which set you thinking.

But neither the troupes nor the audience seems to favour anything new.

Family problems fill this word and in mode and treatment, it is almost the same fare each time.

Come summer and you are back on the theatre trip you took last year. Or the year before... or the year before...

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