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New tale, old form

Koothu-p-pattarai's play was an interesting blend of Theru-K-Koothu and contemporary theatre



COMMUNITY PERFORMANCE The production fully exploited the theatrical elements in Theru-K-Koothu, but without allowing music and dance to dominate the play

The Tamil play, Padukulam, staged by the Chennai-based repertory, Koothu-p-pattarai, was definitely one of the most delightful pieces of theatre presented during the Rangashankara festival. Scripted and directed by N. Muthuswamy, a noted Tamil writer, who is also the chief founder of the group, the play is a fascinating blend of the traditional folk form, Theru-K-Koothu and contemporary theatre.

Theru-K-Koothu is a vibrant, interactive form of theatre which combines rituals, song, dance and the spoken word. Traditionally, the performance lasts 18 days during which different episodes from the Mahabharatha are performed every evening. The show is conducted by the Kattaikaran or Sutradhar and the characters, wearing resplendent costumes, ushered in using a curtain. Each character has his own rhythm and dance steps.

The entire village community is involved in the performance and the rituals that accompany it. The performance ends with the huge clay image of a supine Duryodhana (The making of it is also part of the ritual.) being broken up and bits of it carried home by people as reminders of the evil they should purge themselves of.

The play Padukulam (The Battle field) depicts the happenings, on and off stage, during a Theru-K-Koothu performance by a group of village artistes. Soon we begin to see the parallels between the lives of the artistes and the characters they play.

Since the artistes playing Bhima and Duryodhana are cousins engaged in a bitter dispute over an ancestral piece of land, the duel between them turns really ferocious and the whole village becomes the battlefield. Actors keep stepping in and out of characters as the play alternates between incidents from their real lives and episodes from the epic.

The way the two stories are interwoven and intrude on each other provides a lot of comedy while critiquing each other. We see Bhishma's impotence in the bed-ridden grandfather who has sores all over his body. His is certainly a bed of arrows! Dritharashtra's incontinence and the lice in Gandhari's hair, the thick glasses worn by the couple, demythologise the characters and make us see them as ordinary human beings with all the weaknesses that accompany ordinary old people. The transparency in the scene depicting Draupadi's disrobing is particularly amusing. The screen is deliberately held low enough for us to see the tug of war between Dushyasana and the woman handing out the sari.

The saris, tied together to give the required length, are not even of the same colour. Since the supply of cloth is limited, the moment Dushyasana is distracted the woman manages to reclaim the length he has drawn. Later in the play, the sari worn by Draupadi is used as the screen which represents the Vyshampayana lake.

The actors holding the screen confess the possibility of the screen being partial to the Pandavas. The playwright is particularly critical of Krishna's role and the unfair practices he indulges in. The production fully exploits the theatrical elements in Theru-K-Koothu, but without allowing music and dance to dominate the play. The rituals - Kaali Pooja, the Sacrifice of Aravan and the making of the Duryodhana statue are beautifully visualised.

The chorus is put to multiple use — as musicians, actors and the community. The artistes, many of who are from the traditional Theru-K-Koothu background, use their body language and voice to great advantage. Padukulam draws its energy and technique from the folk form, but is unmistakably modern in its intentions.

LAXMI CHANDRASHEKAR

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