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KATHA, differently told

The sentiment of `ente Malayalam' echoed throughout `Kathayattam,' as actor Mohanlal took the audience on a literary trip


THE FERVENTLY fertile trees and bushes that spread themselves across a movie screen set up on Madras University's Centenary Hall stage on Sunday night were typical of Malayali greenery across the State — unapologetically robust and gleefully thriving on Kerala's damply rich soil.

Veteran actor Mohanlal, also a proud son of the soil, was equally luminous. Buoyed up by the hooting hall, which was packed tightly with displaced Malayalis born in coconutville but raised outside, he conjured up slices of their home State aided by his bewilderingly inconstant backdrop, which spanned the State from one end to the other.

By exploring both the literary and geographical landscape of Kerala at the same time, the earnestly performed presentation created an image of Kerala where fertile imaginations are fed by gossipy streams and pushy bushes. Its intention? To revive the glory of `ente Malayalam' or `my Malayalam'.

The evening began with the screening of a CD titled `Ente Malayalam'. Aimed at children — both the home grown and displaced variety — the collection brings together a delightfully onomatopoeic collection of nursery rhymes bristling with a range of animated cartoon characters, from hefty hens with a taste for Malayali rock music to grandmothers in crisp Kerala saris tagged by broods of curly-haired snub-nosed children. And it's all set in a land where the grass is impossibly green and the skies are brilliantly blue, where mangoes plumply sway and chocolaty streams rush past a patchwork of paddy fields.

After a musical interlude by K.S. Chitra and Madhu Balakrishnan, who burst into a nostalgic series of old songs and poems from Kerala's past, the State's landscape came alive again - only this time they were on video and the funky hens had been replaced by Mohanlal.

In an attempt to rediscover the glory of the Malayalam language, Jacob Mathew, executive editor, The Malayalam Manorama (the organisers of the event), said that they had set out to capture a hundred years of the Malayalam novel by showcasing 10 characters, all of whom would be played by Mohanlal.

The stage show `Kathayattam,' directed by filmmaker T.K. Rajeev Kumar, was ambitious, to say the very least: 100 years of history on one stage, in one night, with just one actor. But, the show not only managed to brilliantly showcase a rich literary history, but also fired up an enthusiastic wave of patriotism in the audience as it vividly evoked the tastes, sights and smells of God's very picturesque Own Country.

As the giant screen behind him sprung to life, Mohanlal played out character after character — from an educated old landowner to a broken rickshaw puller, from a fearless fisherman to a love struck swain. In the meantime, the scenes behind him changed constantly in keeping with the shifting storyline and the characters he played.

The brilliantly executed production managed a blend of movies and theatre, sound and light, music and loud silences. It took the audience from rural campfires under starry night skies to tempestuous seas on darkly windy days as Mohanlal moved seamlessly from one scene to the next, slipping from one character to another with just basic costume changes and a few props.

As the action shifted from one end of Kerala to the other, his accent kept pace, moving further and further away from the sing-song Malayalam of Calicut till it became almost Tamil-like as the story reached Mahe, the Malayali town with a French accent.

The evening ended with Mohanlal's voice repeating the Malayalam alphabet as his raucously excited audience stomped, giggled and elbowed their way out of the crowded hall speaking in an enthusiastic babble of rapid-fire Malayalam. Evidently, if Kerala ever has to pick a champion to fight for the revival of its language, you can bet your last bottle of coconut oil on the fact that he'll be on the list, complete with his array of luxuriant fake moustaches, eye-catching assortment of lungis and treasury of unforgettable stories.

SHONALI MUTHALALY

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