Staging a Basheerian love story

IN ARENA STYLE: A scene from the play Premalekhanam staged in Kochi. —

IN ARENA STYLE: A scene from the play Premalekhanam staged in Kochi. —   | Photo Credit: Photo: Vipin Chandran

Staff Reporter

Kochi: Surya Krishnamoorthy’s stage adaptation of Vaikom Muhammed Basheer’s story Premalekhanam (Love letter) that was enacted at the International Book Fair organised by DC Books transplanted to the arena the simplicity and vivacity that characterised Basheer’s works.

The late writer picked up the commoner to mouth lofty ideas in ordinary lingo interspersing it with acidly humorous and ingenious literary utterances, giving rise to what came to be known as the ‘Basheerian style’.

Premalekhanam, a typical Basheerian story noted for its insinuations against the conservative society of the 1940s that nurtured evils such as religious intolerance and dowry system, has two unassuming characters in Saramma, a Christian lady pretending to be a La Belle Dame sans Merci and Kesavan Nair, her father’s Hindu tenant who is a local bank employee but rather naïve for a lover.

The story is remarkable for its verbal exchanges between the two in which Saramma almost always outwits Kesavan Nair. Initially, she pretends to trample upon Nair’s dream of loving her and unkindly tells him that she didn’t care a hoot for the love letter he had given her.

Later, when she says she is on the look out for a job, he offers her the job of loving him. She’ll have a small monthly sum in return.

The most hilarious instance arises when the two, being from two religions, search for secular names for children they would beget after marriage. They look everywhere from sky to earth and come up with names like Akasamithai (sky-toffee).

Amal Raj and his wife Lakshmy embodied Kesavan Nair and Saramma in the play that was performed with minimal theatre properties, even doing away with music, microphone and stage settings. “The play propagates the message of universal love and brotherhood and it is only fitting that it is done in an arena style where the play takes place in the audience’s midst,” Amal said.

“Without any paraphernalia, it is easy to organise a performance and it’s been well received in all the 30 performances we have had so far. It also brings us close to the viewers at a time when people are alienated from the theatre.

For us, initially rehearsals posed some problems, as our own Akasamithai is only a year-and-half. We rehearsed at home and made our theatre tours family trips,” he said, laughing.

Basheer Manacaud adapted the story for the theatre. Amal’s friends Shiji and Krishnan provided the requisite logistic support.

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