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A beautiful work of art

Dr. M.G.R. Janaki College, in collaboration with Magic Lantern, staged "Samba Shiva." Excellent body language was one of the highlights of this interesting production, says ELIZABETH ROY.



"Samba Shiva," a pleasure to watch— Pic. by N. Balaji

FOR THREE years now Dr. M.G.R Janaki College for Women has been seriously and successfully working at building a foundation in theatre for their students. Scripts chosen are either contemporary or have relevance.

The milieu in which the plays are set have always been their home State and the idiom used, and the style of presentation are drawn either from the popular koothu or other performing folk art.

After two years of playing in Tamil, this year they experimented with a play in English, "Samba Shiva."

Chandrashekhara Kambar, who wrote and translated the play into English, is a playwright from Karnataka who roots his work in folk theatre and mythology.

The script weaves together folk tales and has as its central figures, a widowed father, Samba, and his son, Shiva, who has a glimpse of the love of his life, Gajanimbe.

The king with foul smelling armpits is also in love with her. There is also Ganesha (as in Lord Ganesha) who gifts his donkey to Shiva. He can change men into women and chuckle at their discomfiture.

There are chamberlains and ministers, there is taxation and revolution and reverses of fortunes. All in all a plot with much potential for exactly what Magic Lantern looks for in their theatrical forays! M.G.R. Janaki College did "Samba Shiva" in collaboration with Magic Lantern with Hans Kaushik leading the team and directing the play. In the Magic Lantern tradition, the actors were well trained in physical theatre and excellent body control. It was a pleasure to watch the young crowd communicate with their body. They knew when to use restrain, when to let go. At a moment's notice they could break into koothu steps or into song.

Both the dancing and the singing were of a very high quality. The dances choreographed by Krishna Devanandan call for special mention.

Costumes, again designed by Krishna Devanandan were delightful and communicated humour without going overboard. Ganesha with an angavastram pleated down for a trunk was quite a piece of art. So was the judicious use of white. However, the centrepiece of the production was the donkey, played in perfect unison by two actors. They brought alive its masked head with sheer movements of the body.

The sets were very basic and made up of three varying flights of steps leading to platforms that were well used. It was easy to imagine the majesty of the palace, courtyards of temples, streets or gardens. Lighting design was understated and subtle, bringing the play more into the centre of focus.

Most of the actors did a good job. Neither the play nor the cast lost energy at any point. In fact the wonder of the evening was following the director's creativity and sculpting the production into a work of art, using the resources and the wealth of tradition often lying dormant around us.

The production, however, did have a couple of drawbacks. The script, at least in the English version should have been sharpened and drastically pruned. It simply did not have the stuff to keep the audience riveted for two hours.

The other flaw was a total lack of modulation in voices. The consistently high-pitched screeching from the cast (male and female characters alike) for two hours was harsh on the ears and nerves. The claustrophobic hall with its blatant disregard for ventilation didn't help either.

Thankfully, the strengths of the production far outweigh these irritants and one stepped out into the evening breeze remembering only the honest beauty of a work of art that a bunch of young women created, in collusion with an older group well grounded in the magic of theatre.

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