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Summer Drama Festival 2010 – The Hindu Review

Glimpses from Kodai Nataka Vizha

SUGANTHY KRISHNAMACHARI

Issues were tackled with an eye on realism at Karthik Fine Arts’s Kodai Nataka Vizha. A look at few of the plays.

PHOTO: S. R. RAGHUNATHAN

THOUGHT-PROVOKING: Neenga Yaar Pakkam?

Home truths without homilies

Ever since America came to be known as the land flowing with milk and honey, migrations to the country have only increased. The sheen hasn’t worn off despite the recession. And every home has a son/daughter in the U.S., whom the parents visit on a regular basis.

Some of these elders adopt a corny style of dressing, and a snooty attitude towards everything Indian, like for instance Gajendran (Sivaji Chaturvedi) in the play ‘Neenga Yaar Pakkam?’ (story, dialogues, direction – S.L. Naanu) staged on April 27 as part of Karthik Fine Arts’s the Kodai Nataka Vizha. But what these parents leave unsaid, perhaps by tacit agreement, is the boredom they experience in the U.S.

The plot

Sivaraman (Kathadi Ramamurthy), the protagonist has no such qualms. Adamant in his refusal to visit his son Suresh in the U.S., Sivaraman is equally determined to enjoy his years of retirement to the hilt. Visits to the Niagara and Disney World pale in comparison besides the leisurely strolls on the streets of Mylapore, or meeting friends in the park.

Sivaraman’s son uses every trick possible to get his parents to come to the U.S. He even feigns illness, but Senior doesn’t budge. His wife Lalitha (Hemalatha), however, obliges her offspring only to discover that her husband had been right all along.

With her son at work, time hangs heavy on her hands. Ennui soon leads to depression, and she is brought to India in a catatonic state. But all she needs is a dose of local gossip for her to snap out of her depression! She is back to normal, and becomes the bustling, energetic person she used to be.

The son says that had his father too come to the U.S., Lalitha would not have slid into depression. But Sivaraman argues convincingly that if he and his wife were thrown together the whole day, the result would be frayed nerves and edginess.

In India they have many things to keep them occupied – friends, neighbours, relatives, so that the short time they spend in each other’s company doesn’t seem a burden. Besides, in old age it is the familiar that is reassuring.

The play, however, does not fall into the judgmental trap. In fact it poses the question to the audience – “What do you think of parental visits/parental migration to the U.S.?” It was clear where audience sympathy lay, if the applause was anything to go by. Was it experience manifesting itself as approval, one couldn’t help wondering, but every time Sivaraman pulled aside the curtain of dubious pride that parents use to hide unpalatable truths, the audience roared in approval.


Humour, his forte

Humour is Kathadi’s métier and he excelled as Sivaraman. The play was, however, guilty of a bit of stereo typing, when it portrayed men as being hopeless in the culinary art, and as being dependent on their wives to take care of their dietary requirements.

Sivaji Chaturvedi got names mixed up a couple of times. Maheshwar as Suresh, had a pronounced lisp, that sometimes made it difficult to follow the dialogue.

But on the whole, ‘Neenga Yaar Pakkam?’ is one of those rare plays, which are not preachy, but still make us ponder. Home truths without homilies, sums it up. Bravo Naanu!

Old wine in old bottle

PHOTO: HEENA LOHIA

Passable: Yaadumaagi Nindrai.

Gurukulam’s ‘Yaadumaagi Nindrai,’ had nothing new to say, and took a long time saying it. The duration of the play was over two hours!

Working women having to juggle housework and office work, women being subject to malicious gossip in office (aren’t men subject to such gossip too?), a suspicious and envious husband – these are all themes flogged to death in films, plays and books. And there was nothing new in the treatment of these themes in ‘Yaadumaagi Nindrai.’

Priya is a cheerful wife, a conscientious mother and a successful professional.

Enter trouble in the form of Bhaskar, the newly appointed vice-president of the company in which she works. Bhaskar’s frequent visits to Priya’s house, and the friendship he strikes up with Priya and her son Sharad – all lead to raging jealousy in Priya’s husband Gokul. He tries his best to keep his wife from attending a meeting to prevent Bhaskar, however, succeeds and then lectures Gokul (and the audience) that a husband and wife need not have similar interests to make a marriage successful, and that mutual understanding is all that’s required to make a marriage work. Gokul promptly repents and reforms.

A point that the playwright (M.B. Moorthy) seems to have missed – platonic relationshipis something unique to a working woman, as is made out by the playwright.

The discussions on music and literature that Priya and Bhaskar had were rather tiring to listen to.

The other couple in the play – Moorthy and Brinda had nothing to do with the main story. They just seem to have been included to provide some comic relief – more like an afterthought, where the playwright throws in a little bit of everything – some melodrama, some sentiment, some humour – hoping that something will click with the audience.

The dialogue did not flow smoothly. On many occasions, the actors faltered, making it obvious that they were trying to recall their lines. Not enough rehearsals?

In the scene where Priya visits Brinda’s place for Navaratri, the curtain went up to reveal a stage that had props, but no actors! For two minutes the audience kept staring at a stage bereft of action.

Such lapses only slowed down a play that was already proceeding at snail’s pace. The play lacked structure. The author simply didn’t know how to bring it to an end.

When the play finally ended, one applauded in relief. ‘Yaadumaagi Nindrai is old wine in an old bottle.

Deft handling

PHOTO: S. R. RAGHUNATHAN

SOCIALLY RELEVANT: Priyamudan Appa.

Youth is a time of impatience, when one wants to forge ahead in life, and everything that slows one down is in danger of being discarded as a stumbling block. And sadly, that goes for parents too. Mother Creations’ ‘Priyamudan Appa,’ by C.V. Chandramohan (Kodai Nataka Vizha, April 29) explores the sadness of the old, but also looks at the problem from the angle of the young.

Suresh, a software engineer, leaves his father Rajasekhar on the doorsteps of an ashram, promising to return in a few minutes. He never comes back. Those in the ashram welcome Rajasekhar, who keeps hoping his son will come to take him back home. A volunteer in the ashram records Rajasekhar’s recollections of Suresh’s childhood, and sends the recording to Suresh. Chastened by the memories that the recording evokes, the son comes to the ashram only to find that his father has passed away.

Juxtaposing the dependence of a child on its parent, and the dependence of an aged parent on his son, Rajasekhar makes the point that the elderly are no different from children. They too need mega doses of affection and understanding.

But the play leaves the larger question unanswered. What happens to childless aunts and uncles? Will nephews and nieces care for them? What about handicapped siblings in a family? Should they not be cared for too? The word ‘duty’ is very limiting. Where does it begin and where does it end? When duty enters the picture, affection takes a back seat. If one is to reciprocate affection, shouldn’t the embrace extend equally to the many who serve in silence in many families?

One couldn’t help wondering if Rajasekhar wouldn’t be better off in the ashram, where he is looked after, not out of a sense of duty, but out of affection. The whole question of care of the elderly has many dimensions to it, and maybe Chandramohan will look at it from other angles too in a future play.

T.D. Sunderrajan as Rajasekhar fleshed out the character with his sterling performance, which tugged at one’s heartstrings.

Indicating that Rajasekhar’s end was near, through his laboured breathing off stage, rather than showing him in the throes of death on stage, showed the director’s finesse in handling the scene.

It was obvious that Ravikumar, as Suresh’s friend Ravi, couldn’t cry to save his life. He should either have been trained to cry more realistically, or could have shown his affection for Rajasekhar, without tears. So much so that his crying was the only comedy element in an otherwise serious play. ‘Priyamudan appa,’ was an example of deft handling of a common enough theme.

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