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Of Sardine and more

Who said the pungent tang of mathi (sardine) is unpleasant? For Mathi Rafeeq and his friends belonging to a pastoral village of Kannur, the tangible odour of mathi is their daily dose of oxygen. No day passes by without a mathi story to recall. The limelight falls on mathi as the villagers yak a nineteen to a dozen about their favourite delicacy, at their theater gatherings to daily bantering.

Jino Joseph’s ‘Mathi’, staged at Vyloppilly Samskrithi Bhavan as part of Ajayan Memorial Theatre Festival 2013 on Thursday, visually and thematically stands out from the heap of plays that are churned out on a daily basis. The play produced by Kalanilayam, Koothuparambu, presented a fascinating Kannur slang in its authentic form before the Capital city. With its unique and exceptional treatment, this Kerala Sangeetha Nataka Akademi award winning treat, makes the 1.5 hour long journey a super happy affair. From the impeccable art direction to the flawless performances, ‘Mathi’ is an experience one will never forget in his lifetime.

Announcing the arrival of the central character mathi, the Koothambalam immerse in the murky smell of sardine. On the stage, beside a kerosene stove, sit Sheeba and Kunjama, cooking an array of marinated sardines in fresh coconut oil. Soon, the appetising fragrance of frying fish surfaces while the audience sat enrapt. ‘Mathi’ is replacing the concept of theatre being an audio-visual medium and exploring the wider possibilities of the same. Having a range of exceptional theatre artists in the helm, Jino Joseph has managed to donate unthinkable edges to the play by including audience’s reactions and hence, making it an interactive session.

Mathi Rafeeq and Kunjama indulge in the simple pleasures of life – mathi and their friends. Among them are the intellectual Chandran Mash (Raghavettan), Ramesan and many others. Their evenings were spent with play rehearsals and the hot mathi fries. They sung, danced and enjoyed their days in sheer merriment. Rafeeq falls in love with the girl next door, Sheeba. The love brewed in a cauldron of ‘mathicurry’, does make the audience laugh and sigh at the same time.  But the gaiety didn’t last for long. With the arrival of workers from other states, Rafeeq’s friends scattered away. And with them, Sheeba. Unable to identify familiar faces in his own land Rafeeq commits suicide. Chandran Mash, who has been leading a socialist’s life turns a bourgeois and takes in charge of the workers. But even from the frozen state of life, mathi’s fragrance brings the old times back.

In the audience sits an actor who addresses the characters and converses with them throughout the play by keeping up with the pace. The comic timings and performances of the actors are worth mentioning, especially Renji and Anusree who reprised the roles of Mathi Rafeeq and his sister Kunjama. Appu, enacted by a small boy deserves special mention. They easily become the favourites within a few minutes into the story. The panelled doors, art director Hari Prasad’s masterpiece, easily transform themselves into abodes to public roads. They open and close depending on the storyline.

With crypt dialogues that arouse the right emotions in the audience ‘Mathi’ is simply a delight to watch. The chemistry between the characters is palpable. With the dialogues emitting pure sarcasm, Rafeeq and his friends take the stage by storm. There’s no moment of dullness in ‘Mathi’, which walks us through the first flush of love to the despair of loss in one and half hours.

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