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Malayalam play, “Mathilukal”

Romantic interlude


M.R. Gopakumar and Sajitha Madathil shone as the lead actors in an adaptation of Basheer’s ‘Mathilukal.’

Beyond walls: M.R. Gopakumar and Sajitha Madathil in a scene in the play ‘Mathilukal.’

Vaikom Muhammed Basheer’s ‘Mathilukal’ is one of the most cherished and well-known love stories in Malayalam. Its hero, Basheer himself, and heroine, Narayani, never meet, yet they love each other passionately. Despite being imprisoned and separated by a huge wall that divides their prisons, the two romance each other.

Adoor Gopalakrishnan adapted ‘Mathilukal’ into a splendid film and now Pramod Payyannur has come up with a play based on this immortal novel. Superb performances by M.R. Gopakumar and Sajitha Madathil enthralled the audience at the Government Boys’ Higher Secondary School, Koyilandi (Kozhikode), where it was staged on the concluding day of the Kadathanattu Theatre Festival.

Breathing life to the role

Adoor’s ‘Mathilukal’ never showed Narayani on screen (KPAC Lalitha’s evocative voice had created an aural picture of the character) but in ‘Mathilukal,’ the play produced by Swaralaya (Palakkad), Narayani actually makes an appearance. She enters the stage only about an hour into the play, though. But when she does, the play gets a fresh lease of life, as Sajitha breathes life into Narayani with effortless ease.

Sajitha proves yet again why she is considered one of the best theatre actors in Malayalam. ‘Mathilukal’ is also a reminder about the unquestionable talent of Gopakumar. As Basheer, who is jailed for writing against the then ruling British, Gopakumar delivers a memorable performance. Basheer befriends his fellow-inmates and a considerate young jailor.

One day, Basheer hears a woman’s voice from the other side of the wall – the women’s prison. Eventually the two jailbirds become lovebirds. They exchange gifts, and their hearts, without meeting each other.

Narayani then comes up with a plan for a meeting: they decide to meet at the hospital a few days later. But before that, Basheer is released, unexpectedly. For once, he does not want the freedom he had craved for!

Gopakumar and Sajitha get excellent support from the rest of the cast. But undoubtedly, it is the scenes featuring these two artistes alone that are the highlights of the play. However, the character of Narayani has the potential to be delved deeper into. The play would have worked out even better had the focus been a bit more on this unique pair of lovers.

The quality of the production is high. One is not so sure about the use of music during the meetings between Narayani and Basheer; the intensity of their dialogues needs no background music. ‘Mathilukal’ also suffers from its efforts to be cinematic. The attempt to bring Basheer’s favourite Saigal melody, ‘Soja raajkumari…’ is interesting, though.

This production of ‘Mathilukal,’ which is just three stages old, is certainly one of the better Malayalam plays on the stage of late.

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