Vayala Vasudevan Pillai’s “Udambadi”
A scene from the play ‘Udumbadi.’
‘Udambadi,’ a play written by the late Vayala Vasudevan Pillai, examines the conflict that ensues when people react differently to the changes caused by globalisation.
The Centre for Performing and Visual Arts of the University of Kerala chose an unpublished play as its major production for this academic year. The play was ‘Udambadi’ and the playwright, the late, Vayala Vasudevan Pillai. By staging this play the Centre was paying tribute to its founder-director who had great dreams for this brainchild of his. That the play was an unpublished one which surfaced after his demise, therefore, raised viewer interest.
The obvious thought was: “What were the features in the play that made the director, Raja Warrier opt for it?”
“Of the 17 plays by Dr. Pillai, ‘Udambadi’ stands apart. This is the first time he had used realism, moving away from the poetic quality and symbolism that marked all his other works. Further, the total atmosphere of the home as depicted in the play is one which is built firmly on Gandhian principles. The father who does not appear on stage is a presence throughout the play, guiding and influencing other characters. He embodied a lot of personality traits of the playwright himself,” says Dr. Warrier, whose close association with the playwright-teacher itself is of a quarter of a century vintage.
Most of the situations in the play can be located in any society, anywhere on the globe: an idealist father, a daughter who idolises the father, the younger daughter who finds the father a flawed character, and finally the boy who marries her who was (once upon a time) the father’s confidante. Somewhere along the way, the impatience of youth and the charms offered by a globalising society compel him to do a complete volte face, and the personal decay is out there for all to see.
No character in the play is evil, it is just that some are swept off their feet by the changes taking place, says the director. The play begins with Shanti Prabha (Sreela Rani M.S.), the elder daughter, revealing that it’s the birthday of the father and his supporters and admirers are thronging outside to hear his message on this occasion. The dignity of the moment is violated with the return of the second daughter, Shakuntala (Suma C. Subramaniam). What follow is countless allegations against the father. The sisters represent the idealism of the father on the one hand and the materialistic greed and acquisitive tendency on the other.
In the three scenes that follow, the son-in-law Ratheesh turns up with an agent who represents alien interest on the land. The police officer Mohammad has come to hear the birthday message of the great soul who took him under his wings many years ago, and has been brought up on the lofty ideals set by the father. We hear the sound of gunshots from within the house and know that Ratheesh is the killer and this day will see no message from the man who believed in simple living and high thinking.
The play was presented by students of the Centre for whom a production is an academic requirement. ‘Udambadi’ gave them an exposure to understanding, “What is realism and what is method acting – these are two things that could be successfully transmitted at that level,” says Dr. Warrier, who is also faculty at the Centre for Performing and Visual Arts.