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Tagore’s “Chandalika” in Malayalam

Celebrating Tagore

K. Rajan


A scene from Kavalam Narayana Panicker’s adaptation of Tagore’s Chandalika.

Kavalam Narayana Panicker’s adaptation of Tagore’s ‘Chandalika’ was staged as part of a five-day fete at Katampazhippuram in Palakkad. The festival was held to mark the 150th birth anniversary of Tagore.

Rabindrnath Tagore’s plays were his creative responses to the needs of his time. As a creative genius who had absorbed the finest ideas of Indian philosophy, including those of Advaita, Buddhism and Kabir’s teachings, Tagore could effortlessly express them through his characters. At a time when the anti-untouchability movement under Mahatma Gandhi was at its peak, Tagore came out with his play ‘Chandalika’ in 1933. Through the detailed conversations of the two characters, Prakriti and Mother, Tagore attacked the entire rationale of untouchability. ‘Chandalika,’ adapted into Malayalam by Kavalam Narayana Panicker was, therefore, one of the attractions of the five-day national theatre festival at Katampazhippuram in Palakkad, from December 24 to 28.

The half-an-hour-long ‘Chandalika’ was a visual treat for the audience who came from different parts of the country. Unlike in the original text, which focusses on the fuller development of the two characters Prakriti (Mohini Vinayan) and Mother (Vasantha Gopalakrishnan), Kavalam chose to give more attention to the story element in the play.

The play opens with a pensive Prakriti standing near a well, with a bowl in her hand. In the background is heard the Buddhist monk Ananda’s voice, asking for water to quench his thirst.

Initially, Prakriti is reluctant to quench the thirst of the monk as she is considered an ‘untouchable.’ But the monk convinces her about the futility and irrationality of such obdurate beliefs. Ananda (Sajikumar S.L.), the monk, says: “I am a man. Same is your case. Water is a divine gift that sustains all creatures. It is the only source which comes flowing through all the seven seas.”
Beyond worldly desires

The monk persists with his demand. Ignoring her mother’s warning and threats, Prakriti gives water to the monk. Next comes the prince of Sravasti (Raghunathan C.) on a hunting mission. He sees Prakriti and falls for her. But she spurns his advances despite her mother’s plea to give in to the prince. He fails to charm the mother as well.

Although Prakriti realises she is in love with monk, eventually, through a series of incidents, she learns to go beyond materialistic and physical attractions. In the end, she and her mother join the monks.

For those familiar with the original text, the play by Kavalam was slightly disappointing. The script by P. Narayana Kurup deviated from the original in some respects. The prominence given to the Sravasti prince is one example. In the original, the Mother dies when she revokes her magical spells. The soulful rendering of songs with a folk touch by Anil Kumar Pazhaveedu was the highlight of the play. Costumes by Murali Chandran were impressive.

The theatre festival highlighted new insights into the world of Tagore by staging some of his other plays as well. They included solo performances by renowned actor Seema Biswas in Anuradha Kappoor’s ‘Jeevit ya Mrit’ and V. Gireesh in Kavalam’s ‘Khud our Khuda,’ and the plays ‘A Wife’s Letter’ (Neelam Mansingh Chowdhry), ‘Bali’ (Narippatta Raju) and ‘Raj Rakt’ (Habib Tanvir).

The fete was organised by the Natyasastra Nataka Padana Kendra, Katampazhippuram and Kazhcha Film Society, Sreekrishnapuram, in association with Media Mill, Thiruvananthapuram, to mark the 150th birth anniversary of Tagore.

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