Vaikom Muhammad Basheer
Visually Stunning: A scene from Poovam Banana
Nammolagina Basheer by Ninasam Tirugata recreated the world of the legendary Malayalam writer Vaikom Muhammad Basheer with fantastic authenticity
A complex canvas comprising lively, colourful characters; the play “Nammolagina Basheer” by Ninasam Tirugata, is not just a splendid weave of a variety of people and their ways of life, but also a brilliant juxtaposition of the comic and the tragic. Rajeev Krishnan, who is a Vaikom Muhammad Basheer expert (remember his “Sangathi Arinhya” and “Moonshine and Skytoffee”), puts together a kaleidoscope of the legendary Malyalam writer’s stories, which captures the concerns of the writer brilliantly. Irony, satire, joy and sorrow — the play now cast in Kannada, achieves with equanimity all that is true of the writer’s works. And with a lightness of touch.
Let me begin with what I missed from “Sangathi Arinhya” — Basheer sitting under the shaded Mangosteen tree in an inclined chair, his umbrella, and a pile of his favourite gramophones by his side. That image — stuck in my head — captured the simplicity of Basheer.
But Rajeev Krishnan makes up for it rather consummately; each of the male actors become Basheer, at once extending the scope of his personality, to include one and all.
Basheer’s world has deeply personal moments – for instance, the moving “Madilugal” and “Poovam Banana” charged with a rustic energy and fiery passion. On the contrary, there are those that take birth in the public realm – like the incredibly humorous and ironical “Vishwavikhyaata Mook” and “Mantra Charatu”. It is to the credit of the production that it arrests the modern outlook of Basheer without any pretences of the modern age. The play retains an uncorrupted old-world charm in all its wholesomeness not losing sight of the progressive views of the writer. For me, personally, the “faceless” woman in “Madhilugal” in “Sangathi Arinhya” seemed to have more power and invoked deeper emotions, rather than the visible and audible counterpart in “Nammolagina Basheer”.
The highpoint of the production is Rajeev Krishnan’s ingenuous stagecraft. The manner in which one thing morphs into another is remarkable. Especially, the ‘nose’ in “Vishvavikhyaata Mook”.
The actors put out a brilliant performance. The Mappilah world of Basheer did not seem alien to the thoroughbred Kannada world of the Tirugata team. Their body language, their swagger and the world that they recreated was intimate to Basheer’s own. And Basheer became our own.
However, having watched Rajeev Krishnan’s earlier productions, one did wonder if he had played this production up a bit. Did he fear that in a language that was not his own, the play would fail to reach?
Basheer’s deep attachment for his mother who, despite all her hardship dreamt “big” for her son (“neenu dodda manushyanaagabeku”), which had no whiff of the material world in it, was movingly portrayed. The freedom struggle, his school days… invokes the period of the writer with a touching authenticity. Writing, for Basheer, was so mean pastime. It was a deep commitment. Here’s what he said to the reader: “For you I am an open book. You can read and sense leisurely at your own convenience. But you are still a great enigma to me.”