The Hindu Review of Malayalam Play “Raktharakshas”
Kalanilayam Drama Vision’s flagship production, ‘Raktharakshas,’ returns albeit re-designed to suit modern tastes.
Photo: S. Mahinsha
A story, retold: A scene from the drama ‘Raktharakshas.’
Nothing seems to move the Malayali like nostalgia does. Song remixes and film remakes have had their due, and now its time for theatre re-runs.
Pegging on the memories and emotions of a bygone era, Kalanilayam Drama Vision has re-opened its flagship production, ‘Raktharakshas.’ The 30-year old play, directed by Kalanilayam’s founder Krishnan Nair and written by Jagathy N. K. Achary, is currently running to full houses in Thiruvananthapuram.
The technical finesse and the rooted storyline plus the horror genre can be quoted as obvious reasons for the play’s success. Besides there is its landmark invocatory song, ‘Salkaladevi than…,’ which has attained a rather anthem-like status.
The newer version of the play, which was re-designed to suit the ‘modern taste,’ has been cut down to two hours and 40 minutes from the original four-hour duration. The soundtrack was reworked with advanced electronic systems and the scenes re-structured to incorporate dynamic visual effects.
“I was aware that the nostalgia factor and the goodwill of the banner will bring in crowds. But Jagathy Sreekumar and I wanted to elevate the play into the contemporary cultural space; hence the efforts to makes changes in the aesthetics. We thus kept the basic storyline intact and re-worked on the external factors. And while incorporating the new additions, we saw to it that we did not go out of form,” says Anantha Padmanabhan, son of Kalanilayam Krishnan Nair.
The drama company is currently managed jointly by Jagathy Sreekumar (son of Jagathy N. K. Achary) and Anantha Padmanabhan. The duo decided to revitalise the company in 2003. The original troupe was disbanded after the demise of Krishnan Nair.
“We decided to go for a second run as we believed in theatre and its relevance in society. And the movement for us was not a tedious job, but a way of life,” asserts Ananthapadmanabhan, whose mother happens to be one of the oldest actors of Malayalam theatre.
“My mother, Kodungallur Amminiyamma, had a close association with Kalanilayam, both as an actor and as the founder’s support system. She had immense passion for acting. I remember her telling me about the physical strain she had while performing the play ‘Malabar Lahala.’ She was nine months pregnant then. I have been fed and brought up on drama. The same goes for Sreekumar, I believe,” adds Anantha Padmanabhan, who is all set to helm the renaissance of Kalanilayam Drama Vision.
The group, which has more than a hundred staff including actors, technicians and ground staff, swears by its manpower.
“A play like ‘Raktharakshas’ demands concentration, timing and consistency. The effects you see on stage are not computer generated. They are actually physically done by backstage hands. Without such talent and commitment, it wouldn’t be possible for us to run the show,” he says.
The cast of the ‘Raktharakshas’ includes Kavitha in the lead, with Santosh, Sasi, Sukumaran, Thankachan and Sathyan in the supporting roles. The vibrant stage setting has been done by Jagannathan, a long term associate of Kalanilayam. The sound effects are by Jijo and the lighting by Ramchandran and Shijo.
“Kalanilayam was once a wonderful treasure house of actors. Veterans such as Aravindaksha Menon were active members of the troupe. Their plays such as ‘Raktharakshas,’ ‘Kayamkulam Kochunni,’ ‘Elayidathu Rani,’ ‘Taj Mahal’ and so on banked heavily on actors. It would be great if this new troupe can groom and mould a new set of actors,” hopes R. S. Madhu, a theatre practitioner and a retired school headmaster.
Theatre in the mainstream
Kalanilayam’s efforts in pushing theatre back into mainstream comes at the right juncture as the Malayali cultural space is more or less void with cinema entering a crisis and television nearing monotony. And theatre being the most vital form of self-expression, will find its way through in any cultural context.
And the evidence? ‘Raktharakshas’; the play with its 30-year-old text and a very conventional stage form, has made it into the minds of the masses minds indicating the changing tastes and sensibilities. Also evident is the Malayali’s open mindedness and receptivity towards any work of art done with seriousness and commitment.