Jambu Lingam a satire in Tamil
Presented by Chennai theatre group Magic Lantern
- Vasanthi Sankaranarayanan, Chennai 
e-mail: vasanthi40@gmail.com 

February 12, 2006 

A belated review 

Sometimes, it takes me a great deal of time to write a review, as the research which I would like to do as background material for my review gets delayed due to reasons beyond my control. I saw the play Jambu Lingam on the last but one day of the production, December 23, 2005. Since the script for the play was as the organizers claimed, an adaptation from the Kannada play "Samba Siva" by the celebrated writer, Dr. Chandrasekhar Kambar, I felt it was only fair to read the original (at least in English) before I ventured into writing a review.

In this connection, I would like to state that a review has two kinds of significances an immediate review which the newspapers insist on, which informs the director/actors/organization of the impact the play had on the audience/critic. But, if the review is written from a more general/universal perspective, it is not time bound. It would have relevance/significance even after two months/or even a year. This review is intended not as a short-term critiquing of the actual performance of the play; it looks into certain general aspects of adaptation of plays from different languages, need for writing own scripts by various theatre groups so that script writing is also developed side by side with other aspects of theatre, and lastly the need to move away from one or two performances per year to developing a comprehensive theatre movement with social, political and artistic underpinnings or ideologies.

I did manage to read the English version of the original play. My initial impression is that the adaptation titled "Jambu Lingam" by Magic Lantern is substantially different from the original play. As I have read only the English translation of the Kannada play I have to make further allowances for the dilutions that would have taken place in the translation process itself. In any case, the Tamil adaptation is very different from the English translation and I am basing my review on the changes made in the adaptation from the original. You may wonder why I am harping on the original version of the play so much. Because it is my opinion that the adaptation has omitted the serious political nuances and innuendoes of the original and has substituted them with some seemingly important political nuances of local variety. Again, in their anxiety to reduce the time taken for the play, they have cut down on what seemed to them as repetitions and even changed the texture of the kind of humour that Kambar has used in his play. The argument given by the scriptwriter for changing the style of humour is that it is not suited for a proscenium stage performance for an urban audience. Kambar's humour may have been colloquial and even bawdy; but it had an earthiness which even though the urban audience may not be able to take with a straight face, added a serious dimension to the play. Unfortunately, with the omitting of that humour, the texture changed from a strong, earthy one to a pale, urban street variety of humour which affected the production considerably. 

Again Kambar has used the mode of a folk play which is eminently suited to a rural ambience and audience, but which may seem out of place and gawky in an urban setting, before a urban audience. Both in the matter of political content and earthy humour, the play lost its vitality when those elements were diluted. Also, in Kambar's play the donkey, men becoming women, the God Ganesha acting like a human being all created a sense of the non-real in the midst of the realistic setting of the play. That effect was not captured in the script or the production by Magic Lantern. The net effect was that of a comic play which would appeal only to the lesser intellectual strata of the urban audience. This is the problem with adaptation. Unless it is done with great care paying attention to the linguistic, ethnic, and cultural specificities, it can turn out to be a pale version of the original and also loose the vitality of the original.

That brings an important question to the fore. Why perform adaptations of plays from other states or language regions when there are enough plays from the language regions you are familiar with. It is not as though the group is performing so many plays and they do not have enough Tamil plays to choose from. At the most, they do only two or three plays in a year. So, why go for adaptations from other languages, instead of sticking to the language one is familiar with?

Another question that comes to mind, is when are our local groups going to give up producing plays that are already written and published, and start to write their own scripts? That alone would help to develop a serious theatre sense and theatre movement which one can call ones own and which will impart a serious theatre sense to audience at large. There does not seem to be any serious attempt towards writing own scripts and staging them. I do feel strongly that the time has come for all theatre groups to stop producing plays written by other playwrights either in the same form or through adaptations. Let us do away with Neil Simon's, Dario Fo's and even Chandrasekhar Kambar's or Girish Karnad's and have more of Anushka Ravishankar's, Anupama Chandrasekharan's and their ilk.

Jambu Lingam had senior and experienced actors taking different roles such as Kumaravel as the King, Jayakumar as Jambu and Hans Kaushik as Ganesha. Then there were the secondary level actors such as Dayal as Lingam and Krishna as the donkey, Ding Dong. Hans was the director, Rubin the translator, Kumaravel the adapter. One cannot say that these people lack the technical or artistic expertise to do the jobs allocated to them. The stage sets and props were done in consultation with Natesh. The music composition and training was by Pralayan, lighting by Balasaravanan, costume design and stage management by Pravin. These are all heavyweights in their own way. So, one cannot find fault with the technical support for the production. However, in as much as all the combined energies of the actors as well as the technical crew went into staging of a very inadequate and weak script, the production could never lift itself out from the very ordinary, common level of a comic strip. One expects better theatre standards from a seasoned theatre group such as Magic Lantern.

Vasanthi Sankaranarayanan is a translator and journalist and holds a PhD in cinema. She is a regular contributor to narthaki.com