- Padma Jayaraj,
July 10, 2008
Kerala, once transformed a feudal society by taking up social themes. Now,
for some three years, the theater has been projecting the agrarian crisis
which has become a national problem. Of the many plays presented in Thrissur
in connection with the on-going competition sponsored by Kerala Sangeeth
Nataka Academy, AKAVOOR CHATHAN showed uniqueness.
is a touring theater well known for its productions by its director, Rajesh
Irulam, winner of many awards in Kerala. Hemantha Kumar, a script writer
is in love with the legends of Parayipetta pantheeru kulam, a myth
that has been taken up by artists of every hue. Apparently, it tells of
a deep-rooted concept embedded in the social setting and cultural fabric
of Kerala: its caste system and the amity between different divisions of
humanity. The myth has been interpreted in umpteen ways down the line.
The play, Akavoor Chathan is such an interpretation in the light
of the present agrarian catastrophe that looms large for India.
had decreed Vararuci, a Brahmin scholar to marry Panchami, a low-caste
untouchable. The couple led a wandering life along the banks of the river
Nila. Twelve children were born to them. Forced by the husband, the mother
left the newborns at the place of their birth. Childless couples of different
clans adopted the babies. And they grew up to produce legends. Agnihotri,
Paakkanar, Perunthachan, Naranath Pranthan etc still remain etched as symbols
of greatness in the cultural horizon of Kerala.
one of the castaways, grew up as the son of agricultural laborers. At the
age of ten, he became one of the servants of a landlord. Made in heroic
mettle, Chathan intuitively grasped farming secrets in Nature's laws. The
land, full of lush green paddy fields became rich and prosperous. But soon,
political jealousies, shrewd diplomacy and a gullible people, caused the
downfall of the kingdom.
broader outline is incorporated many strands that make the myth a metaphor.
A microcosm becomes the poetic symbol of macrocosm. The drama is cast as
a typical folktale of Kerala, rooted in superstitions, occultism, caste
complexities, gender bias, deep seated humanity and a love of nature. The
dialogue correlates present day events of India's farming policies and
disasters. From the dialogue emerge parallels that highlight a blind acceptance
of western ways, secrecy of scientific investigation, racial and class
prejudices, consumerism, and commercial exploitation that is ecologically
harmful. Globalization is at the receiving end pointing to the use of genetically
modified seeds and chemical fertilizers that poison the wellspring of waters
that leads to the destruction of life: human, animal, and plant, on a large
As the mythical
and the modern are juxtaposed, dramatic irony deepens and the myth becomes
a metaphor. Music is the most powerful component that evokes nostalgia
for a lost era rooted in agricultural moorings. The tempo of music is kept
on a parallel course as the play moves on. The dance, as well as the nuances
of music is a judicious mixture of Kerala's folk and classical traditions.
Young Sheik Elahi, the music director, is quite a promise. He succeeds
in exploiting technical virtuosity to create a wonderful soundscape.
is commendable that adds to the mythical aura. And scenic props paint the
landscape in its lush glory and monsoon magic. The technique of background
narration is used to connect events and times and is a powerful tool in
the hands of the director. Vibrant folk songs, spectacles, and forgotten
anecdotes weave multiple meanings and associations, making the allusive
fabric of the play.
character, Chathan (Mala Dileep) does not have the strong physique of a
28 year old son of the soil. The wily scholar Ramanujam (Vijay Mitra),
the landlord (Harilal Manakkapadi), and his wife (Prasanna) are authentic
portrayals. The body language used is befitting to the social strata
projected in the play.
of the dialogue needs a lot of attention. It is here the play lacks professionalism.
And, a protracted finale robs the play of its gravity. On the whole, Akavoor
Chathan, basically the story of a farmer, turns a mirror on ourselves
- a scathing comment on our farms and ways of farming. The drama is a wake-up
call to realities of imminent dark days that threaten life on the Earth
and the agrarian crisis that needs immediate concentration.
Jayaraj is a freelance writer and a regular contributor to www.narthaki.com