A DIFFERENT ATTEMPT: Venkata3 in the U.S.
United Amateur Artists’ (UAA) popular play, ‘Venkata3,’ was recently staged in the U.S. The shows were significantly different, because all the actors, except YGM were non-resident Indians residing in the U.S. The 12-member cast comprised Tamil stage artists from Chicago and Milwaukee. The sold-out shows of the play had a plethora of hilarious sequences, which were received very well. U.S. based newspapers such asHiIndiaandThendral, a magazine, noted the unique effort of the group. Though there is great demand for Indian theatre performances among the NRIs, flying a large crew from India to the U.S. poses several constraints, budgeting for one. An added complexity is the uncertainty in procuring a visa for everyone in the group. It is in these contexts that collaborative efforts, such as the one attempted with Mahendra in Chennai and the theatre troupe in Chicago, work.
“Generally, I travel with my own cast to stage plays in different countries. Teaming up with a Chicago-based group was an experiment,” says Mahendra. The group effectively used Facebook and Youtube to reach information about the shows to the audience, while tele-conferencing and skype-based video calls helped members put the act together. “I was amazed at how the team pulled it off in a very short time,” exclaims Mahendra.
The actor who is used to months of rehearsals and run-through sessions before a play, had just a week at Chicago to guide and fine-tune the NRI cast. Even before his arrival, the new team was almost ready to hit the stage – they had worked on the dialogue and had rehearsed the scenes thoroughly,” says Chicago Ranga, who coordinated the collaboration efforts from the U.S.
“We learnt a lot from our association with Y.G.Mahendra. It was an intense, insightful experience for us”, observes Raj Vardhan, another US-based amateur theatre artist. Passion for the art makes successful experiments such as ‘Venkata3’ worthwhile.
‘Pareeksha’ Tamil Theatre group will perform Thedungal directed by journalist, social activist and theatre personality Gnani on October 2, Sunday. Badal Sircar’s Michil is Thedungal in Tamil. The youth, crushed by numerous rallies around him and the old man who has lost his way are both in search of a real procession of human beings that will show them the way to their real home. Will the procession of human beings professing love, ever come? Pareeksha’s version has transformed the play to the contemporary Tamil milieu.
‘Pareeksha’ is a pioneering theatre group founded in 1978 and has introduced the plays of Vijay Tendulkar, Badal Sircar, Brecht, Priestley and Pinter in Tamil besides the Tamil works of Indira Parthasarathi, Na. Muthusami, Jeyanthan, Pirabanjan, Aranthai Narayanan, Ambai, S.M.A. Ram, Sundra Ramasami, Gnani Arigner Anna to the theatre audiences of Chennai.
Badal Sircar is the founder of the street and open space theatre as a movement in India. He introduced the new concept of third theatre, and spread the principles of theatre for ‘conscientisation’. His plays continue to be regularly performed in several Indian languages.
Thedungal by Gnani will be staged on October 2, Sunday at 6.30 pm at Spaces, 1, Eliots Beach Road, Besant Nagar. Contact: Gnani 94440-24947
“Valai” tamil play by Shraddha
The strands were both strong and weak in Sreevathson’s web.
Corporate espionage, sabotage of a rival company’s project, revenge of a jilted lover, technology which compromises privacy – any of these could weave complicated webs. Shraddha’s new play ‘Valai’ (written and directed by V. Sreevathson) dealt with all these factors.
The curtain went up to show the tastefully done up living room in the house of Ramakrishnan (Balaji), a brilliant engineer from IIT, who is working on a top secret project for his company. There is a sinister plot to derail the same.
The story belongs to the category of science fiction, and that precludes the possibility of faulting it for inaccuracies, for science fiction borders on fantasy and is usually futuristic.
But the play had other flaws, which should have been avoided. The way Mani (Girish) conducted himself in office made the whole office look like a college classroom. Would those working on top secret projects behave so childishly? Mani’s question to a potential interviewee about whether she had been disappointed in love was so absurd that it didn’t deserve even a laugh. Who, in any company, would put such a question to someone attending an interview?
Sreevathson came in for a scene, as the late Sujatha. True the writer was so well read that in a conversation, he would touch upon a wide range of subjects. But then his various observations would never lack cohesion. However, Sreevatson’s touching upon the Thirukkural, Kamba Ramayanam, etc, had no relevance at all to the scene.
Now for the positive points in the play. The sets (Mohan Babu and Vijayakumar) must be mentioned here. The stage had been split vertically, with the upper portion serving as the office and the lower as the house of Ramakrishnan. A door that opened when employees displayed biometric identification worked without a glitch. The use of shades of gray and steel gave the office the required serious, formal look.
Nithya Kaushik, as Mirnalini, made a charming villain. The underplayed performances of Balaji, who discovers that the embers of his first love are not quite dead, and Kavitha Sivakumar as his wife Maya, were pleasing.
The statements that IITs should not be treated as factories to produce engineers for the West and that if IITians were interested only in migrating to the U.S., then IIT education should not be subsidised were very valid ones. It takes courage to make such statements, when it is considered the ultimate achievement of parenting is to see one’s child go through IIT and then to the U.S.
The Shraddha team hopes to draw a young audience to Tamil theatre. If they succeed in doing so, then such messages would be most valuable. But platitudinous statements are not enough to make a play interesting. The play was slow, predictable and bereft of any excitement, although it should have been racy, given that it was about corporate rivalry, secret surveillance and a vengeful woman.
At ‘Valai’ rehearsals.
The crowds that thronged the hall to watch their three earlier plays – ‘Dhanushkodi,’ ‘Doosra’ and ‘Madras to Chennai’ – were an acknowledgement of Shraddha’s efforts to transport Tamil theatre to laudable heights. Now, the team is all set for its fourth edition – ‘Valai’ – a play woven around the subjects of software wizardry and corporate espionage. “This time it is science fiction with strong human emotions as the base. We once again assure theatre lovers that a new experience awaits them,” assures Shivaji Chaturvedi, one of the pillars of Shraddha.
The aim of the aspiring group of veterans isn’t merely to experiment and innovate, but to draw both young audiences, and ‘only-English’ stage-watchers to their shows. But such productions mean money. “So far well-wishers and children of Shraddha’s members have helped the endeavour. But soon we’ll have to work out a system where people who know about Shraddha come forward willingly in support. Many are already doing it and we are thankful to them. We have 945 names registered in our mailing list, thanks to the curtain raisers to our plays that have appeared in The Hindu. Invitations have already been despatched to all of them. Others who wish to join us at the ‘Valai’ shows on September 28, 29, 30 and October 1, at Narada Gana Sabha Hall, can call us at 28272655; 98402 08583 for invitations, between 9a.m. and 1p.m.; 3 p.m. and 6 p.m.
Shraddha operates on a very different plane. “We are not a drama troupe,” the members clarify. The core group has an eminent set of Tamil playwrights and novelists to write for Shraddha. ‘Valai’s writer and director is V. Sreevathson, whose Dummies Drama is a familiar name in the Tamil theatre scenario.
Shraddha will be presenting their next venture, “VALAI” by V. Sreevathson during the period 28th September 2011 to 1st October 2011 at Narada Gana Sabha Main Hall, Alwarpet, Chennai.(Daily at 7 pm).
FIERY PERFORMER: M. Ramasamy, Professor of Drama
Professor M. Ramasamy shares his passion for theatre
He may be soft-spoken, but when he gets on to the stage, he undergoes a total transformation and breathes life into the character he plays. Actor, playwright and professor of drama M. Ramasamy is a respected name in the theatre scene of Madurai.
I first met Mu Ra (as he is fondly known in the drama circles) two decades ago at a residential workshop in my alma mater. I enrolled for the event just to spend time with friends but he totally changed my perception of drama. By the end of the four-day workshop, we were able to evolve our own scripts and performing better.
Mu Ra himself had no idea about drama until he finished his post-graduation. Growing up at a time when Dravidian movement was at its peak, his inclination towards Tamil language and literature was only natural. “Though I studied physics in undergraduation, my passion was to study Tamil which I fulfilled while doing M.A. I did Ph.D. under Professor Shanmugam Pillai, who asked me to work on ‘Folk Theatres in Tamil Nadu’. Thus, I got into the world of theatre,” he recalls.
As a research scholar he began documenting different “koothu” performances. “I used to run after performers to gather information. My friends even called me “koothu” Ramasamy. Once, a friend of mine invited me to watch a performance happening in his locality. But on reaching there I found that it was a leather puppetry show. It was a different experience for me. I never realised at the time that it would be the title for my doctoral thesis,” says Mu Ra, who did his Ph.D. in “Tamizhaga Thorpavai Nizharkoothu.”
His acquaintance with Professor Ramanujam and participation in a seven-day workshop in Gandhigram widened his understanding of theatre. Following which he along with his students and friends founded the ‘Nija Nataka Iyakkam’. “We planned to name our group as ‘Real Theatre Movement’, which we later translated into Tamil. We staged our performances on the foothills of Nagamalai,” he says.
Jerzy Grotowski’s ‘Poor Theatre’ inspired him to focus on the skills of an actor and acting more rather than relying heavily on theatrical devices. “I opted for the street theatre form as it is like carrying a pen and pencil. You can carry your play anywhere and perform. It poses a different challenge as you have to demand the attention of the spectators. Retaining the audience for 20 to 30 minutes is tough task. The subject should be based on an issue of some public importance. Moreover, the play becomes more interactive with active participation from the audience,” he explains.
Syed Muthahar Saqaf
A scene from the play “Kasikku pona Ganapathy” orgnaised by RR Sabha in Tiruchi.
Drama In connection with the L. V. Memorial Day, Rasika Ranjana Sabha, Tiruchi, presented two plays.
The Rasika Ranjana Sabha, Tiruchi, staged two plays at its FGN Hall in connection with the L. V. Memorial Day recently.
The Navabharath Theatre of veteran artist Koothapiran, presented a social play, ‘Kasikku Pona Ganapathy’ on the inaugural day. It was directed by N. Rathinam, Koothapiran’s son.
The main character, Ganapathi Iyer (Koothapiran), often quarrels with his foster son Chinna Kannan (Rathinam) for being naïve and innocent. All effort to change him are in vain. A dejected Chinna Kannan leaves for Kasi. There, the circumstances favour him. Chinna Kannan rescues the pontiff of a religious mutt in Kasi from the fury of floods, while a large number of devotees remain silent spectators.
The entire holy town and the residents of the mutt, begin to revere him as a courageous saviour. Chinna Kannan is given the noble assignments of managing the mutt and looking after the welfare of the people visiting it. Later Chinna Kannan becomes the head of the mutt and is christened ‘Viswanatha Sharmaji.’
At this time, Ganapathi Iyer and his wife Thangam (Chithra Anantharaman), decide to visit Kasi. On reaching the mutt, they are pleasantly surprised to see Chinna Kannan and amazed by the respect he commands. They plead with him to return home with them. Chinna Kannan’s polite refusal and his explanations are touching sequences that form the climax of the play.
He tells his foster parents that the mutt and its administrators believe in him and depend on him. So to him, fulfilling their expectations is more important than returning home. He points out that their lack of faith in him forced him to leave them However, he requests them to stay with him so that he can look after them. The visibly moved couple agrees to do so. Bagyalakshmi (a foreign woman in the drama), Ramkumar (Kalkanu Mama), N. Ganesan (Sivanmalai), John Selvaraj, a BSNL employee (Kasi Mutt manager), lent able support, which showed how well they understood their roles.
Earlier Koothapiran was felicitated by George, an executive member of the Rasika Ranjana Sabha, with a shawl. In his speech, Koothapiran appreciated the effort of R.R. Sabha in the promotion of theatre and other cultural activities and added that he enjoyed staging his play at the Sabha.
A social and spiritual play, ‘Rama Vijayam,’ of the Chennai-based Railpriya Drama Troupe of Ananthu, was presented the next day. Ananthu played the main character and showed how God can help the believer during crises. The dialogue was simple and informal, but effective.
Stage Artists and producers explain why the forum is necessary.
Koothapiran, veteran AIR and stage artist and recipient of Mylapore Academy’s Lifetime Achievement Award says, “I am 80 years old. My association with drama is more than six decades. This involves 27 plays and 3,500 shows. Yes, applause is oxygen for us but we need money too, especially in these hard times. This association has been formed only to make drama artists financially secure.
“This is long overdue. Now artists and playwrights can fight for their rights. This organisation can go through drama scripts and select good ones. This will result in quality productions with messages. My latest Saswadham’s 3D set cost me Rs.80,000; lights accounted for Rs. 25,000. With escalation in the cost of production, we cannot solely depend upon what Sabhas pay us. My ventures are zero-profit. And we don’t get anything in terms of money. I can get a sponsor for my play but how many producers can do that? While Sabhas make good money during the December season should they not come forward to share a small portion of it with drama troupes to encourage them also? The number of shows has come down from 100 to 10 over the last few decades. Something has to be done about it.
Master Sridhar, who received M.A.’s R.S. Manohar Silver Rolling Trophy for best actor in mythological play Thirunavukkarasar says, “We want due recognition, give platform to talented producers and really good plays, those that create public awareness. Plays such as Harischandra and Krishna Bhakti transformed lives. Drama is nothing but thought, word and deed. It is the only medium where artists talk live without dubbing. A mythological play costs roughly Rs. 3 lakhs, nowhere near what sabhas offer us.
“It is imperative that all troupes come under one banner,” says K.R.S. Kumar, another other recipient of R.S. Manohar silver rolling trophy. “It was Chief Minister J. Jayalalitha, who offered concessions in transports system for drama troupes. But there are other problems. Government exhibitions do not book and exhibit plays at all. I have spent out of my pocket to stage ‘Thirunavukkarasar.’
According to Balasundaram, who received the YGP Silver Rolling Trophy, there is no space for rehearsals. “Iyal, Isai, Nataka Mandram used to fund for ten new plays every year. For the past five years it has been stopped,” he says. He staged ‘Tiruvalluvar,’ ‘Narsimmhar’ and ‘Sivasakti’ none of which brought him dividends.
A few of the Association’s objectives are:
To bring all the Tamil stage drama producers and troupes in Chennai under one roof
To represent to the State and Central Governments regarding the welfare of the drama producers, and troupes.
To get the recognition (for the Association) of the Tamil Nadu Iyal Isai Nataka Mandram, Sangeet Natak Akademi and other autonomous cultural bodies.
To get the assistance of the Railways, Airways and surface transport authorities, and various government departments
To get fair and reasonable remuneration.
To help producers and troupes with the launch of new plays…