Tamil Nataka Mela 2016
- Padma Jayaraj
e-mail: padmajayaraj@gmail.com
Photos: Manoj, KSNA

April 24, 2016

The audiences in Kerala are familiar with Tamil dramas staged as part of National drama fest. Yet, for the first time, troupes travelled through the length of Kerala showcasing different types of plays. If Swapna Vazhvil is a modern play, Sri Tyagarajar is musical, a genre that began drama  on proscenium theatre.

Swapna Vazhvil

Of all art forms, drama dares to tell the truth to your face. The play SWAPNA VAZHVIL, satirical in tone, tells unpleasant truths. That human being is a curious combination of the Saint and Satan is its theme. If the saint resides in the conscience, Satan inhabits the scheming plotting mind. In between, humane values swinging back and forth make him/her human. Love is the only panacea for the ills that distraught us, is the message.

As the title suggests the drama revolves around dreams that change perspectives, an effective technique that turns the tables in the lives of a close-knit people.

Ganeshan, the central character is ‘subnormal,’ in the loving words of his wife, Meera. Enveloped in childlike simplicity, Ganeshan is lovable like a child. People treat him like a child, using, misusing, abusing… Although he is hurt when others take him for a ride, in his simplicity he takes it in his stride. An accidental fall brings turbulence into these placid waters.  Ganeshan gets hurt in his head and falls into a fitful sleeping pattern. He wakes up to predict coming events with tragic consequences. He goes to the police to avert a tragedy. Soon the police start depending on his special power and his fame spreads.

Ganeshan finds himself in a land of bliss. One day, playing alone on a carrom board, he is confronted with the messenger of Evil. A man of success comes with a briefcase full of money asking his help to dupe the police by lying about his dream. Although he drives him away, his mind is implanted with Evil. The child is lost; the man emerges. There is a pivotal shift. We find a reversal of earlier situations from the adult perspective. The game is cast on darker lines. Hurt seeks revenge; the Saint becomes Satan. Those who abused him are paid back in the same coin. His loving wife is scared of him now.

Before things move beyond control, love kindles hope. Another fall, accidental of course!! Another hurt on the head, Ganeshan is back to square one. The dark period of 6 months is blacked out. A medical miracle! He is subnormal once again, with a shivering hand and drooping lower lip.

In an anticlimax, Ganeshan confides his secret to the audience. That the only thing he values in life is the unconditional love of his wife. For that he needs to be a simpleton uncorrupted by the world around. Yes, the play delivers a stern message, the need for nurturing human values and love for love’s sake.

The cast forms the backdrop for the evolution of the story played by the central character. The technique of reversing situations is not new.  As a social satire replete with topical allusions, it keeps the audience engaged throughout.

Swapna Vazhvil, produced and directed by Y. Gee Mahendra was staged in Thrissur as part of Tamil Drama Fest, hosted by Kerala Sangeetha Nataka Akademi on 19th March 2016.

Sri Tyagarajar

The next day saw SRI TYAGARAJAR directed by T.V. Varadarajan, a United Visual Production, Chennai, a musical play. The theme and the form coalesce to present the life of a prodigy who lived in 18th century in Thanjavur. Legend and history are beautifully knit to create an authentic version of the life and creations of Tyagaraja, a musical genius.

Screen and the stage with recorded songs are the tools for documenting the life and works of great Master. The life story is divided into three parts. His childhood, initiation into music in Thanjavur, the capital of Chola dynasty, is narrated through songs set to music as drawings fill the screen.

The play starts with Tyagaraja as an established composer-singer living happily with his wife and daughter paying obeisance to the family deity, Lord Rama.  But, talent and fame make demands on his soul and spirit. The King wants him to be the court musician. He rejects the offer as he prefers India’s immemorial begging bowl to the palace. Trials and tribulations follow. Unflinching faith in his deity takes care of his worldly needs. The situations rain miracles and songs are spontaneous bursts of emotional offerings.
As if the Lord were to test him, he loses his family heirloom, the image of his beloved deity. A godforsaken dark period of spiritual desolation, surfaces. A period of wandering from temple to temple follows. The burdens of the songs record his pain of separation, of desolation, and of longing. The third stage of his life is one of peace. The miraculous recovery of the idol is the moment of union, of homecoming, of bliss. The last phase of his life with his disciples, singing of the spiritual glory of life rooted in music ends in sanyas and liberation true to India’s ancient tradition. The legacy of Sri Tyagaraja still flows like the waters of Cauvery.
The highlight of the drama is the presentation of the Tyagaraja kritis, as if triggered by situations. And, recorded songs reverberate like unpremeditated melodies.  The play focuses on the devotional aspect of his music and personality. In the backdrop we see the picture of the times: the locale, the temples he visited. Court intrigues, happy family life, and sibling rivalry, mark the calendar of his life. Human greed tempered with remorse and gratitude makes a historical period human. Lord Rama with Sita devi, Laxman and Hanuman living as guests is too much to swallow. That exaggeration robs the charms of subtlety is perhaps a personal view.

Padma Jayaraj is a freelance writer on the arts. She is a regular contributor to www.narthaki.com.