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Icons from the epic gallery

KAUSALYA SANTHANAM

Pritham Chakravarthy and Palani brought alive the agony of Dushala and Dushasana at The Park's The Other Festival.



CONTEMPORARY VOICE: Pritham K. Chakravarthy portraying Dushala. Photo: S. Thanthoni.

The only daughter among 100 sons, Dushala is smudged into the background in "The Mahabharata." Giving her a contemporary feminist voice and yet not wrenching her out of context, Pritham K. Chakravarthy presented this neglected woman with empathy and passion in her solo theatre performance "Dushala-The Last Matriarch," on December 4 at The Park's The Other Festival, Museum Theatre. And who can qualify so much for the "other" as this woman created in response to her mother's Gandhari's request after all her other sons had been fashioned from the ball of clay to which she had given birth?

Since there is very little mention about this sole sister of Duryodhana in the epic, Pritham chose to flesh her out through her own script. The monologue throbs with the pain of the marginalised, of one who is witness to all the action but whose opinion is never sought, of a daughter who yearns for a portion of her mother's affection but which is all diverted to her sons. Some lines leaped out of the text with poignancy, especially those relating to the neglected girl child, princess though she may be. Through her charged performance, Pritham once again showed the audience what an excellent actor she is. Since the material on her heroine is scanty, she cannily made the show brief and effective, not stretching it out beyond its capacity. The presentation in English was sprinkled with Tamil lines. But the entrance through the aisles led to much craning of the neck for the viewer and diffused the power of the words in the introduction.

The costume of long skirt and sleeveless blouse helped free the character from the bondage of time while the metal leash she trailed, symbolised the enslavement of women then and now, here or everywhere.

THREE LEVELS

Like Pritham M. Palani of Purasai too chose to focus on characters from the same epic with its complex and fascinating gallery of heroes and villains. He presented "Dushasana Vadham" (inadvertently mentioned in the publicity material as "Dushasana"), also a solo performance, the next evening. The show began an hour later than announced!

The work was written by Na. Muthuswamy and directed by V. Balakrishnan. Palani brought to the performance all his training as one belonging to a traditional Koothu family, as a member of the Koothu-p-pattarai repertory and as an expert in various folk and martial art forms. The springboard of the action here was his training in acro-asanas from Edgar of Costa Rica. The play, we learn, moves at three levels — the mud from which the actor springs, the mid-air region which a royal character like Drithirashtra inhabits and the upper regions from which Veda Vyasa, suspended upside down, comments on the action. It also operates from three vantage points — that of the actors, the characters and the narrator's.

The play was a take off from Koothu-p-pattarai's production "Padukalam" where Sanjaya narrates the course of the Kurukshetra war to the blind Drithirashtra. The stage design in sanguinary red and pure was striking (Design: Akila). It accentuated the theme of Bhima's revenge and the gory death of Dushasana. But the actor's too brief costume was an affront to the eye.

Director Balakrishnan provided full scope for his actor's talent and energy but the theme was overstated. Palani displayed amazing dexterity and control and the voice culture was excellent: he could be heard clearly even hanging upside down. But the acrobatics seemed to have been introduced to showcase the actor's skill and not because it was essential to the production. Visually arresting, "Dushasana Vadham' needs polish.

Journey into the past

Far from `the other' but very moving and fulfilling was ``Sakina Manzil" which took the place of the previously scheduled play at the Museum Theatre on the final day of the festival. Written by Ramu Ramanathan and directed by Jaimini Pathak, it was a journey into the past, both for the actors and the audience. The play (concept and research: Amrit Gangar) left one feeling not a little ashamed.

So few of us know that on the anniversary of the day the Titanic sank, a tragedy of mammoth proportions had struck Bombay.

On April 14, 1944, a British ship illegally storing explosives burst spewing its contents, and gorging out the innards of the city. Thousands were killed, injured, maimed or scarred.

The English play took one to an era marked by the spirit and fervour of the Freedom struggle and also on a nostalgic trip, to a time of melody and song.

The gruesome events of April 14, 1944 are recollected though the eyes of the protagonists, now old and ailing. This was the period of World War II but for the citizens of Bombay, the fatal strike came not from the Japan, but from within their own shores.

The play rested on the histrionic abilities of the narrators, (Jaimini Pathak and Suruchi Aulakh).

Both did a splendid job weaving a magic web of words to keep the viewers spellbound for 90 minutes. Humour was a glistening, inbuilt component of the dialogue. So was the melody.

Ramu Ramanathan brilliantly conjured up images, moods, feelings and actions, a whole tapestry through his writing. The production, however, could do with some tightening.

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