Devotion as theatre

December 2, 2016 § Leave a comment


Any literary work ,  once it is branded as a sacred religious text,gets stagnated as such, relieved of its possible other multiple aesthetic dimensions,  that it can be  read as a play  and  as glorious poetry . ‘Tiruvaimozhi’ by the vaishnavite saint Nammazhvar is  one such work that ,in fact, transcends its ‘branding’..

In ‘Tiruvaimozhi’, the poet has delved deep into the several layers of consciousness for a mystic experience of God that is expressed in various dramatic forms. To start with there is a vision and the devotee wants to experience  this moment stretched into eternity. But interrupted by the values of space and time, the vision recedes to make this separation a vital, dynamic force, to crave for achieving it more and more. This is what that gives the work a dramatic form .There are romantic confrontations, dramatic tensions, pathos, reconciliations and finally resolution in the form of bliss, all emotions captured at various psychological levels .

The dramatic theme of separation and union is used alternatively, separation leading to alienation and union to spiritual ecstasy. The ‘hero’ (God) has many roles to play, his incarnations used as a motif for this purpose. The exploits of these incarnations can be shown on the stage as beautiful visuals. The ‘heroine’ (‘Atma’) is multi-faceted, joyous, sad and angry,but solely dependent on the hero(God) for her sustenance. Like the ‘cutradar’, the  poet intervenes on appropriate occasions, to describe the hero’s various attributes – this reads like a dramatic interlude- to provide the reasons for the heroine’s insatiate desire for the hero. There are also other characters like the foster- mother of the heroine, the heroine’s companion,,  the various birds that are requested to go on a mission to the hero for carrying the heroine’s message of love for him.

After having written the first three works, (“Tiruvirutham’. ‘Tiruvaciriyam’, and ‘Periya Tiruvanthathi’), Nammazhvar could have composed ‘Tiruvaimozhi’  to integrate the individual  elements of these poems  in a comprehensive manner  to  produce this masterpiece, which, in its total and holistic form reads like a play.

‘Tiruvirutham’  deals with the  theme of love in a dramatic form  in the true Sangam tradition.’Tiruvaciriyam’ dramatizes  the various forms of worship. And ‘Priya Tiruvanthathi’ dramatizes the divine vision and continuing happiness in this   terrestrial life itself. In ‘Tiruvaimozhi’ the play of divine love is enacted to make the human life on earth as a unique meaningful  dramatic experience.

Here is a short scene in ‘Tiruvaimozhi’.

The  heroine in the state of ‘separation’ from the hero, runs after a snake and cries ‘oh it is my lover’s bed’ ( Vishnu in snake-bed). Later, she showers all her body with mud and says, ‘This is the earth my lover measured with one step’ (Vamanavatara)  Like this she goes on visualizing all earthly objections as manifestations of her hero and as such, the earth is the holiest place for any dramatic adventure.’ The world is a stage and every object in this earth has a dramatic meaning in relation to God. Everything is the body of God and all have God as their self. Everything exists for Him and He exists for everything. Let us enact this play and be blessed’.

The concept of metaphysical truth is dramatized in material form to capture the popular imagination and perhaps, to relieve it of its intellectual abstraction. The Indian aesthetic theory of rasa is largely responsible for dramatizing our religious concepts. Bkakti is described as a rasa. Etymologically, ‘rasa’ means anything that can be tasted or enjoyed Only in drama, the various aspects of rasa can be fully realized and as such, the bhakti poets, for whom, devotion was more a dramatic than a religious experience .

Bhakti  is a Dravidian concept(Dr.Gonda, Dr; Zimmer)  The early Tamil way of life and its philosophy is very earth oriented, as evidenced by the sangam  poems. As most of the major puranas were compiled in the South, according to Dr.Zimmer, they were able to translate the spontaneity of blissful living in a mystical and dramatic idiom. This helped evolve a humanistic concept of God, which is the bottom line of romantic love and aesthetic devotion for divinity.  Saint Ramanuja, who held,that the Tamil prabhandas  were equal to the Vedas in content and quality, chose to call ‘the Eternal Player, for whom the Universe is a stage, as ‘Bhuvana Sundara’  A new ‘ avatara’ was introduced called, ‘arcavatara” (a new character in the eternal play) i.e the incarnation of God in the icons. This led to an experience of aesthetic joy, which found expression in the innumerable festivals, and such artistic forms as music, dance and drama in the temples.

Ramanuja is said to have initiated a new dance-drama genre called ‘Prabhanta Natyam’, that dramatized the sequences found  in the love poetry of the alwar hymns. Sadly this dramatic form is now extinct.

புரட்சிக் குஞ்சு!

November 27, 2016 § Leave a comment


இப்பொழுது இந்தியாவில் உருவாகிக் கொண்டிருக்கும் அரசியல் சூழ்நிலையைப் பார்க்கும்போது, எனக்குப்  போலந்தில், கம்யூனிஸ்ட் கட்சி ஆண்டபொழுது, அவ்வரசியல் சூழ்நிலையைச் சித்திரித்துக் காட்டிய போலிஷ் கவிஞன் ஆதாம் வாஷ்க் (Adam Waszk) கவிதைகள் நினைவுக்கு வருகின்றன.

(1)                             சர்வாதிகாரி சொன்னான்

புரட்சிக்குப் பிறகு

ஆழ்கடல் பாற்கடலாகும்

என்ன நடந்தது?

கடல் நீரைக் குடித்தார்கள்

கரித்தது

‘பாற்கடல்’ என்று கூவியது அவன் தொண்டர்கள் கூட்டம் !

(2)                             சர்வாதிகாரி சொன்னான்

புரட்சிக்குப் பிறகு

‘ விரலை வெட்டினாலும்

வலிக்காது!

விரலை வெட்டிக் கொண்டார்கள்

வலித்தது.

நம்பிக்கையையும் தெய்வத்தையும்

பறி கொடுத்தார்கள்!

நம் அரும்பெறும் புண்ணிய பூமியாகிய பாரத நன்னாட்டில் நம் தலைவர் ஒரு மா பெரும் புரட்சி ஏற்பட வித்திட்டிருக்கிறார் என்கிறார்கள்.  அதன் முதல் அடையாளம் நாடெங்கும் நாம் வங்கிகளில் காணும்  மக்கள் சங்கிலி!

இப்பொழுது மறுபடியும் ஆதாமின் கவிதை வரிகளைப் படியுங்கள்!

கம்ப ராமாயணத்துக்கு ஏன் பழைய உரை இல்லை?

November 22, 2016 § 2 Comments


தமிழ் இலக்கிய வரலாற்றில் என்னைப் பல கேள்விகள் விடை காண முடியாதவாறு அரித்தெடுத்துக் கொண்டிருக்கின்றன. ஒன்றை உங்களுடன் பகிர்ந்து கொள்ள விரும்புகின்றேன்.

பத்தாம் நூற்றாண்டிலோ அல்லது பனிரெண்டாம் நூற்றாண்டிலோ, கம்ப ராமாயணம் எழதப்பட்டதென்றால், 13,14,15,16 ம் நூறாண்டுகளில் வாழ்ந்த உரையாசிரியர்களில் ஒருவர் கூட கம்ப ராமாயணத்துக்கு உரையோ அல்லது அவர்கள்  எழுதிய உரைகளில், இந்நூலினின்றும் மேற்கோளோ எடுத்துக் காட்டவில்லை? பத்தாம் நூற்றாண்டில் எழுதப்பட்ட  சமண நூலாகிய சீவகசிந்தாமணிக்குச் சைவர் என்று கருதப் படுகின்ற நச்சினார்க்கினியர்  உரை எழுதியிருக்கிறார்.  சமயச் சார்ப்பற்ற திருக்குறளுக்கு வைணவராகிய பரிமேலழகர் உரை கண்டார். நச்சினார்க்கினியர், தெய்வச் சிலையார், இளம்பூரணர், பேராசிரியர், சேனாவரையர் போன்ற பலர் தொல்காப்பியத்துக்கு உரை எழுதியுள்ளனர். மாணிக்கவாசகர் இயற்றிய திருக்கோவையாருக்குப் பரிமேலழகர் எழுதிய உரை கிடைக்கிறது.  சங்க இலக்கியங்களில் பெரும்பான்மையாவற்றுக்குப் பழைய உரைகள் கிடைக்கின்றன.

நாலாயிரத் திவ்யப் பிரபந்தத்துக்கு, பனிரெண்டாம் நூற்றாண்டிலிருந்தே இராமாநுஜர் பணித்தபடி, வியாக்கினாங்கள் எழுதப்பட்டு வந்திருக்கின்றன. ஆனால், இவற்றில் கூட , மணவாள மா முனிகளைத் தவிர மற்றவர்கள், வால்மீகி ராமாயணத்திலிருந்து மேற்கோள்கள் எடுத்துக்காட்டிருக்கிறார்களே தவிர, கம்ப ராமாயணத்தைக் கண்டு கொண்டதாகவே தெரியவில்லை. ஆனால் கம்பரோ சடகோபர் அந்தாதி என்று நம்மாழ்வாரைப் பற்றிப் பாடியிருந்தும், கம்பருடைய தமிழ் இலக்கியத்துக்கு மணிமகுடம் போன்ற  கம்பர் படைத்த நூலை, இந்த வைணவ வியாக்கியான ஆசிரியர்கள் ஏன் குறிப்பிடவேயில்லை என்று புரியவில்லை. ஈட்டில், நம்பிள்ளை, திருக்குறளை மேற்கோள் காட்டி, ‘என்று தமிழன் கூறியிருப்பது கண்டாயே’ என்கின்றார். ‘தமிழன்’ என்ற சொல்லாட்சியின் தொனிப் பொருள் புரியவில்லை.

அந்தக் காலத் தமிழன், கம்ப ராமாயணத்தைப் படித்ததும் புரிந்து கொள்ள முடிந்தது என்பது காரணமாக இருக்கலாம். ஆனால், கம்பனுக்கு மக்களிடையே செல்வாக்கு இருந்தது என்பது, அவனைப் பற்ரியும்  படைப்பைப் பற்றியும் வழங்கும் சொல்லடைகளினின்றும் புரிகின்றது.

 

 

 

Players and performances

November 20, 2016 § Leave a comment


We have a long tradition of theatre in the Orient and our theatre, as of now,

 

does  have the embarrassment of coming  after great periods of folk and classical heritage,

 

unlike in the Occident, where theatre was seen only  as dramas at the altar of  words.

 

The inevitable change to drop the term ‘drama’, with its overtones of a literary art, and to

 

refer to the entire activity as ‘the theatre’ or ‘the stage’ came much later in the West.

 

Lee Strasberg  speaking about the new concept of theatre in the West said:’ It is not to be

 

Words, scenery, and acting as separate elements uniting into a somewhat mechanical unity. It is

 

to be the word transfigured from its purely logical and literary meaning on a page by the living

 

presence of an actor whose creation of the moment, the event, the situation, brings out or adds

 

a dramatic meaning of the word. The playwright is a poet, not the poet of words, but is a poet of

 

words-acted, of scenes-set, of players’ performing ‘. This aptly describes our ancient Indian

 

theatre.

 

How did we in India conceive theatre in our ancient times?

 

‘Theatre’ ,as understood in India from time immemorial, is a total art form that includes

 

poetry, prose and drama. It is known  as ‘natya’ in Sanskrit and ‘koothu’ in Tamil and

 

Malayalam. The commentator Adiyarkunallar for ‘Cilappadikaram’, which I would consider

 

as the first Tamil play, though written in an epic form, says, ‘natak(drama) is one of the

 

constituents of ‘koothu’, narrating a story’.

 

Theatre at its best has a fascination, a power, and a distinctive human splendour which can

 

make other fine arts seem cool and remote.. Nothing else has quite the same ability to erase

 

the distinction between art and life. We have heard the bards proclaiming that all the world is

 

a stage and not a symphony, a poem, a painting and even a novel. It is a powerful and vibrant

 

art form for moulding the mind and which comes fully alive in the intellectually charged

 

energy generated between the stage and audience. Historically, it is seen as signifying a high

 

point in the cultural development of a people, and has been a measure of its accomplishment. It

 

is one of the most democratic forms of creative expression, for it can only be sustained by the

 

will and acceptance of the public.

 

Now it may be a valid question to ask, who goes to the  theatre in our age of cinema, television,

 

sports and discos? In India, during the ancient period, the educated as well as the masses went to

 

the theatre, as one understands from the two classifications Raj dharmi and Lok dharmi mentioned

 

in old dramatic manuals in Sanskrit and Tami. During the Elizebethian days  plays were performed

 

before the aristocracy and common people. In the 19th century in Europe in  it was a kind of an

 

after-dinner entertainment. for the rising  middle-class   This was the period

 

when situational comedies and drawing room romances became popular.   But a small

 

minority, informed  by modern painting and literature, needed something more from the theatre,

 

more than a digestive after a heavy meal. So two principal sorts of dramatic enterprise, referred to as

 

the  majority and minority theatres, came into existence. Drawing a political analogy, one may say

 

that the minority theatre was dramatic Left and the other, dramatic Right. This should not be

 

equated with our Raj dharmi and Lok dharmi.

 

We have no records to show where and before whom our plays were performed in ancient days,

 

though there are references to the grants given to the performers by the kings during the late Chola

 

period.. Apparently they were staged in the temples before a mixed audience of aristocracy and the

 

common people as in Elizebethian days in England. As such, there was no question of minority

 

and majority theatres  in our tradition. The classifications , Raj dharmi and Lok dharmi  were  not

 

in the context of exclusiveness but only referred to the types of play and their performing style.

 

In Adiyakunallar’s commentary for ‘Cilappadikaram’ we find this subject dealt at length with apt

 

quotations from the ancient Tamil dramatic manuals, which are now extinct.

 

During the 19th century we borrowed the Western theatre forms and performed our own passion

 

plays on the puranic themes. We forgot our own tradition of improvisation and artistic suggestion but

 

adopted ‘ the nothing-left-for imagination’ stage décor and sets as found in the naturalistic theatre of

 

the West. And in the sixties, when we found that there was total transformation of ideas and concepts

 

in the Western hemisphere and that they were looking toward the East for inspiration and innovation,

 

we began to realise the importance of our own cultural roots. At this point of time, as in the West,

 

we also acquired the divide that is what is known as majority and minority theatres, whereas no so such

 

division had existed anytime before in our cultural history.

 

The irony was all such plays we staged based on our cultural heritage and roots became the

 

minority theatre and the western imitations on a proscenium stage became the majority theatre!

 

It has now led to a situation when we need to reinvent ourselves.

 

The best way to do it is theatre education for the young minds to make them feel aware of their

 

past and  their immense potential  to create a meaningful theatre to suit the present contemporary

 

needs.

 

The theatre  is an integrated outcome of such creative endeavours as literature, music, dance, painting,

 

sculpture and architecture. ‘One has to be a total artist to be in theatre’ said Wyszpiansky , one of

 

the outstanding Polish playwrights in the late 19th century. The study of theatre calls for dedication,

 

eagerness to assimilate things from several disciplines and above all, strong mental and physical

 

discipline.

 

 

 

The dimensions of this task have to be reflected in the course of study prescribed in a school of

 

drama, the system of training adopted, the facilities provided, the competence of the teaching staff,

 

and the capability of the students to absorb and impact which all these collectively make on the

 

theatre-going public and the masses.

 

Theatre involves both theory and practice. There are several aspects of theory which need to be

 

covered.  Theory flows from practice and it gets codified for future reference and adoption for the

 

sake of continuity. In other words, theory also does the function of what is presently known as ‘play

 

analysis’. The plays of the past masters have to be studied in depth. Intensive study of the Sanskrit

 

dramatic form should be the intrinsic part of the curriculum as it is the very basis of Indian

 

aesthetics. The Natya Shastra provides inexhaustible avenues for research, study and

 

development which would bring a new awareness of India’s heritage.

 

These various areas of dramatic study which deal with universal truths call for close investigation

 

because they embody important philosophical, metaphysical and cultural concepts. In the theatre

 

these ideas are projected in terms of the stage, through the medium of acting, direction, stage design

 

costume, make-up, lighting, sound and music as well as theatre architecture. One cannot therefore

 

visualize a course of theatre study in which theory is separate from practice.

 

In the analysis of theatre architecture,  for example, the student discovers that the theatre building itself

 

is not just an intricate machine for the presentation of plays, or an edifice which merely undergoes

 

alterations in response to changing tastes in architectural style. It is far more than that. It is, in each

 

period and place, the representation of the universe in microcosm. The Sanskrit theatre, the Noh

 

stage, the wooden ‘O’ of Shakespeare’s times, the Greek theatre at Epidaurus, the Koothambalam in

 

Kerala, the stage described in the Tamil epic ‘Cilappadikaram’, each of these is the actualization of

 

a profound idea, namely a paradigm of the universe and humanity’s place in it. Accordingly, a course

 

of theatre training covers the history of man’s representation of the world and of human experience

 

through a wide range of artistic expression, from the ritualistic, the symbolic and the poetic down to the

 

meticulously realistic and the very now post-modern. happenings.

 

The formation and evolution of human societies, their history, philosophy, metaphysics, psychology,

 

political structures and cultural manifestations are part of the vast landscape of humanity which the

 

the theatre practitioners must comprehend and traverse. How is this complex panorama of human

 

experience to be reflected with subtlety, clarity and insight in a system of training- which starts with the

 

simple acts of breathing and walking, and proceeds to interpretation of fleeting, half-conceived

 

nuances in  human relationships?

 

Training in theatre can, of course, stop short at the mastery of mere techniques; voice production,

 

movement, carpentry, the making of stage properties, the application of make-up, the fabrication

 

of beards and wigs, the cutting and stitching of costumes, or the handling of lighting equipment. Such

 

knowledge is basic, and these can be taught in workshops and institutes of technical training. It is

 

necessary to go beyond the technical aspects to the interpretative and creative aspects, to the more

 

profound role of each of these elements as indices of human consciousness, of moral and

 

psychological truths. It is only then that one can plumb the deeper waters of creative intuition and

 

awareness. It is the privilege of the teacher in theatre to initiate the novice, step by step, into this

 

boundless ocean of human experience.

 

To instance, an actor needs training in several aspects.  Not only his body but his mind has to be

 

moulded to help him develop aesthetic sensibility. Various forms of  strenuous physical  training

 

like dance movement, yoga and the martial arts provide an actor with a body which is a flexible,

 

sensitive instrument. But beyond that, when the actor is confronted with the whole gamut of world

 

history, and is called upon to serve as an interpreter of the past and the present of a wide range of

 

human societies, he must have a developed  mind which is comprehensive and sensitive enough to

 

respond to these exacting demands, as well as sufficient skill and imagination to communicate them

 

convincingly to the audience.

 

How long a period is required for the training of such an actor?  If we take any of the performing arts

 

in our country, music and dance it takes not less than ten years. The Kathakali  pupil acquires his basic

 

technique over a period of 14 years and spends his lifetime projecting not more than three or four

 

roles suitable to his physique, temperament and histrionic skill.

 

The question arises whether it is possible to devote such a long period for training in the modern

 

era that calls for instant results?  What kind of training must go into the making of a contemporary

 

actor who would interpret in fairly quick succession  a mythological hero/heroine, Dharamvir Bharati’s

 

Asvatthama, Shakespeare’s Hamlet; who would on occasion perform in a Therukooththu, or Noh’s

 

play, a Brecht play, a Moliere farce, a musical extravaganza; and who would be equally at home in

 

television and the movies? These are the modern requirements and what kind of training needs to be

 

given to achieve this virtuosity?

 

In 1975 the National School of Drama Society was set up with this lofty objective to train students

 

in all branches  of theatrical knowledge and give them comprehensive education  in regard to all

 

all the cultural forms obtained in our multicultural country.  Its Memorandum speaks of an integrated

 

all India vision that would project the best plays available in all the major languages of the country.

 

Its mission was to develop suitable patterns of education in all branches of knowledge both at

 

undergraduate and graduate levels  so as to establish high standards of theatre knowledge in all the

 

regions of India and for this reason  develop liaison and associate with colleges, Universities in all the

 

regions of this country.

 

But what  really happened? Here is the rub. What was once visualized by its founding fathers as National

 

School of Drama has only become a Delhi School of Drama catering only  to those hailing from  a

 

privileged region of this vast country with a privileged language as their mother tongue. One may

 

venture to ask whether this great nation’s multiculturalism, which at once is its great distinction and

 

pride, reflected in the NSD’s courses of study and also its distribution of students and staff? Occasional

 

workshops in some of the regions of the country at brief intervals for a short period of time cannot be

 

an effective substitute for an integrated approach to disseminate socially relevant theatre for the whole

 

country with different languages and culture.

 

In my view, the National School of Drama should be renamed as the National University for Theatre

 

Arts located in Delhi  and it should have autonomous schools at every regional centre affliated to it

 

The National University in Delhi should be an apex body and high centre of learning devoting itself

 

wholly to do intensive research at the highest level in regard to the various regional dramatic forms in

 

India. It need not engage itself teaching the undergraduate and graduate courses  but leave this business of

 

teaching at these levels to the regional centres. All the cultural disciplines at the regional centres  should

 

have Chairs at the National University to make it a representative body. It should have also as its

 

function to organise National Drama Festivals at the various regional centres annually , when all the

 

great regional productions  would be staged. The National Apex Body should also coordinate frequent

 

cultural exchanges between the various regional centres, which would go a long way in creating a

 

national consciousness in regard to the identity of this country in a multicultural context.

 

A realistic and comprehensible plan needs to be worked out and executed at the national, state and

 

local levels. Theatre is a social endeavour and the best vehicle for meaningful education.  There are

 

are very vital issues that confront us now because of events like globalisation that have overtaken us

 

that a common needs to get prepared to face them and decide which are good for him and which are not.

 

I do not mean that the theatre has to become a propaganda forum but without sounding pedagogic, it

 

can  promote a social awareness among the people without losing its artistic sensibility. The

 

existence and role of the regional as well as the national theatres can be visualised only in this

 

context of such an over-all country wide scheme. Then alone the theatre can be called the artistic

 

conscience of the Indian society.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Crown or strawberries?

November 11, 2016 § 2 Comments


This year marks the four hundred and fiftieth anniversary year of the bard of Stratford-on-Avon, William Shakespeare, who was described by his senior and scholarly contemporary, Ben Jonson, as the ‘Soul of the Age’. Shakespeare was born in the year 1564, which was significant in the sense it anounced the death of Michelangelo and also of Calvin, the former,  representing  Renaissance, in the field Arts and the latter, Reformation in the field of religion.  Shakepeare’s works summed up the essence of both. Shakespeare died in the same year as Cervantes, the author of Don Quixote, which by being the first of the modern novels that wrote an epitaph for the Middle Ages.

It looks like writing plays and staging them had no literary credibility,as like being a poet,  during the period in which Shakespeare lived. It is said that Shakespeare had to write sonnets to prove his literary worthiness. This is the reason his plays had to be published posthumously and his first folio found print  only in  1623, seven years after his death.  Ben Jonson, although, he was held in high esteem as a literary scholar( ‘If learned Jonson sock be on, or sweetest Shakespeare, Fancy’s child- John Milton), was ridiculed by the academics, when he published his plays during his life time.

A small digression. Things were not different in India at that time and even now.. The author of NatyaSastra and his hundred sons were considered as Brahmins of an inferior order for practising thetatre. Kalidasa, perhaps, had to write Meghadootam, Kumarasambhavam and Raghuvamsam, and such immortal poems because he knew his fame might not rest on his plays . Fortunately he had Sir William Jones  to translate it in the 18th century and there was this outstanding German poet Johanna Wolfgang von Goethe to go raptorous after reading it in translation. That plays did not merit literary consideration in our Indian cultural tradition  could be the reason for the Sanskrit plays finding their translations in the Indian languages only after the recognition for dramatic creations came from the West in the 19th century  . It must also be noted that most of the major literary works in Sanskrit  had already been rendered in the Indian regional tongues  centuries earlier.

This very well could be the reason why Ilango Adigal conceived ‘Silappadikaram’ as a play, but wrote it in an epic format.

Drawing the digression to a close and coming back to Shakespeare, though his infinite variety of characterization is inexhaustible, my faourite is his portrayal of the historical personalities. When one writes prose fiction or drama based on historical figures, history is mostly a grand setting, a background agains t which the characters ,love, hate, suffer and experience their personal dramas. But it appears Shakespeare looked at history in a totally different way. It is not a background or setting but it is, by itself the protagonist of a tragedy.

History has no meaning, ,constantly repeats itself in cruel cycle that it is a elemental force, like hail, storm, hurricane, birth and death. One can find this Shakespeare repeating it over and again in all his tragedies, King Lear, Macbeth, Hamlet, Richard II and Richard III.

………… for within the hollow crown

That rounds the mortal temples of a king

Keeps Death his court; and there the antick sits,

Scoffing his state, and grinning at his pomp;

Allowing him a breath, a little scene,

To monarchize, he fear’d and kill with looks;

…………. And humour’d thus,

Comes at the last, and with a little pin

Bores through his castle- wall, and farewell king!

(Richard II,III,2)

Most of Shakespeare’s historical plays are about power and politics. During the reign of the plantagenet kings in England  in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, h istory was a metaphorical staircase sketching the climb and fall of kings and their progenies.. They were either dethroned,or murdered,or both, almost reading like our Mogul history after Jehangir.

Among the historical plays of Shakespeare, the most fascinating character is Richard III. It is very difficult to analyze this complicated character. He has a compelling presence, in spite of his uncouth physical bearing. He murders everone that proves to be a hurdle for him to ascend the throne but yet, while reading or watching everyscene, one cannot but wait for him to arrive , so absorbingly interesting is his character. This is, precisely, what is known as Shakespearian magic.

One illustration.

It is just before early dawn, a time when royal or political conspiracies are hatched.  All the barons and plitical bigwigs have assembled at the Tower, waiting for the most important man , Lord Protector, the Duke of Gloucester(later, King Richard III) to arrive. The ruling king is dead and who is to ascend the throne? The decision has to be made by Richard. The dead king has two minor sons. Everyone in the assembly knows Richard’s intentions. Richard knows that he has to dispose of a few friends and foes and also the minor heirs to the throne before he sits on it. And he cannot do it openly.

The atmosphere is tense.

The lords talk amongst themselves that the Lord Protector may be requested to reveal his decision.

Suddenly there is thundering silence as Richard enters in measured steps in deep contemplation, as he was in meditation.

Everone looks at him in awe and anticipation.

Richard turns towards the Bishop of Ely. The Bishop trembles.

Richard says:

‘ My Lord of Ely, when I was last in Holborn

I saw good strawberries in your garden there;

I do beseech you send for some of them’.

Saying this, he leaves the place. All of them look at each other in confusion and anxiety. What does the tyrant want? Strawberries or throne?

This is vintage Shakespeare. This could be very well be from a Beckettian or Ionesco’s play.

Later, he accuses most of them  of conspiracy and sends them to the Tower and that is another story.

 

 

 

 

 

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Music and theatre

November 9, 2016 § Leave a comment


When S.G.Kittappa was the uncrowned monarch of the Tamil stage, during the early decades of the twentieth century, no one could visualize a Tamil play without music. Even the first social play in Tamil (1879), ‘Pratap achandra Vilasam’,  written by Rama swamy Raju, offered a multi-lingual music menu, Tamil, Telugu, Hindustani and hold your breath, English! We have no record whether this play was ever staged, but there is an apocryphal story  that the  play was never allowed to be  performed, as the portrayal of the hero bore close resemblance to one of the well-known zamindars, who lived in Cindadripet at that time.

It is said that whatever may be the play, whether it was ‘Valli Thirumanam’ or ‘Harishchandra’,  Kittappa unfailingly made the stage entry singing  Saint Thygaraja’s  Telugu  sahitya, ‘Everini’. The audience would not have pardoned him if he didn’t. In those days,the first question that was put to any kid aspiring for a theatre career was, ‘ Can you sing?’.

Bharata muni, the author of ‘Natya Sasatra’ would never have imagined a theatre without music and dance. In fact, ‘Natya’ in Sanskrit and ‘Koothu’ in Tamil, synonymous with ‘theatre’ in English,  included music, dance and play. ‘Muthamizh’ should actually mean, ‘isai, nadanam’ and ‘natakam’. ‘ Cilappadikaram’  by the Chera prince, Ilango, a Jain ascetic, is known as , ‘muthamizh viraviya pattudai seyyul’, which means ‘an integrated literary genre comprising, music, dance and drama conveyed in the conventional poetic form’.  Classical and folk forms of music and dance are the characteristic features of this remarkable epic.

It is unfortunate that in the modern Tamil theatre, music and dance are banished in the plays dealing with social themes. One may ask whether it is possible to sing and dance in a social play.

Why not?

When Bernard Shaw wrote ‘Pygmalion’, a serious satirical play dealing with grammar and phonetics, he would have never imagined that when it was metamorphosed into a  popular Broadway musical and later into a film, re-christened  as, “My fair lady’ , it would  fetch him  an Oscar!  (And Shaw is the only writer who got Osacar and Nobel Prize till date!  ‘The King and I’, a roaring Braodway musical in the fifties of the last century is basically about the clash of

two cultures, the West and the East. Music got integrated beautifully with the seriousness of the theme in both plays as they were presented on the stage giving an impression, as if music was  an intrinsic part of the basic thematic concern!

We have developed a rigid opinion that music can go well only with the mythological plays and not with plays that deal with social themes. The social reformist plays of the forties during the last century, nearly most of them being party-oriented  spat fire and brimstones in the name of dialogues that music would have been  considered totally inappropriate  In such a thunderous exhibition  of verbal extravaganza.  Later, they were replaced by family themes, middle class sob stuff in which the hero or the heroine  tore emotions into shreds by loud declamations and body hysterics.

And later, for a change, the theatre-going middle class urban crowd  wanted to laugh their heads off in theatre, instead of shedding tears, which initiated ‘ Bob Hope,  Here comes Lucy’- like shows, that guaranteed jokes  every second.. Such plays gave little scope for the musical idiom to be displayed  on the stage. And the horror was, in the name of background music, cinematic versions of sound and fury  totally  unrelated to what was happening on the stage, created noise pollution all over.

Can one call ‘ Cilappadikaram’ a mythological theme? It is about a merchant prince, his chaste wife and a royal courtesan  It is also about the miscarriage of justice by a blundering king. It is a human story, which would be in the modern parlance, a social theme. But how the poet narrates this theme  as an happy blend of music, dance and above all, as drama , no single aspect of it appearing as a digression , would provide an amazing experiencer  if only one were to read  the epic and visualize!

Years ago, I saw a Manipuri play on a social theme. I had this impression earlier that  it was impossible to write a realistic play for the Manipuri stage. And it was a pleasant surprise to me to see that the play ,which was about economic  exploitation, conveyed through music and dance( with excellent choreography to back it up)   had also a scene portraying drawing room discussions on Marxian dialectics( a subtle satire on Marxian intellectuals) !  It did not seem unnatural but appeared to be a part and parcel of the scheme of things that what made the play stand out!

 

 

 

ஹே ராம்!

November 5, 2016 § 1 Comment


அது சின்ன தோப்புதான்.பார்ப்பதற்கு ரம்மியமாக இருந்தது. நாகலிங்கம், பள்ளிக்கூடம் முடிந்தவுடன் அங்குப் போய் நண்பர்களுடன் விளையாடுவது வழக்கம்.

 

அன்று அவன் அங்குப் போனபோது யாரும் வந்திருக்கவில்லை.

 

தோப்புக்கு அருகே ஒரு சின்ன குளம். அங்கு ஆண்டு முழுவதும் தண்ணீர் இருந்தது என்பதுதான் ஆச்சர்யம். நாகலிங்கம், கால்களை அலம்பிக் கொள்ள அந்தக் குளத்தருகே சென்றான்.

 

அவன் திடுக்கிட்டு நின்றான். ஒரு நல்ல பாம்பு படம் பிடித்து ஆடாமல் அசையாமல் குளத்தருகே நின்றது..பாம்பைக் கண்ட பயத்தைக் காட்டிலும், அதன் படத்தில் ஏதோ எழுதப்பட்டிருந்தது என்பதினால் ஏற்பட்ட வியப்புதான் அதிகமாக அவன் முகத்தில் தெரிந்தது. அது ஹிந்தி எழுத்து என்று அவனுக்குப் பட்டது, என்னவென்றுதான் அவனுக்குப் புரியவில்லை.

 

பாம்பைப் பார்த்தால் ஓடக்கூடாது என்று அவனுக்குத் தெரியும். அவனும் ஆடாமல்

அசையாமல் நின்றான்.

 

பாம்பு சிறிது நேரம் கழித்து ‘சர’ ‘சர’வென்று ஓடி மறைந்தது.

 

அடுத்த நாள் அவன் தன்னுடைய பள்ளிக்கூட ஆசிரியரை அழைத்துக் கொண்டு வந்தான். முதலில் அவன் சொன்னதை அவர் நம்பவில்லை.பிறகு அதை நேரில் பார்த்து விடுவதென்று முடிவு செய்து அவனுடன் வந்தார்.

 

பாம்பு அவர்களை ஏமாற்றவில்லை. அதே நேரத்தில், அதே இடத்தில் படம் பிடித்து நின்றது. ஆசிரியருக்கு ஹிந்தி தெரியும். படித்தார். ‘ராம்’.

 

அயோத்தியில் இருக்க வேண்டிய பாம்பு மதுரைப் பக்கத்தில் இந்தச் சிற்றூருக்கு எப்படி வந்தது என்று அவருக்குப் புரியவில்லை. ஒரு வேளை, ராமன் ராமேஸ்வரம் போகும் போது,இந்த ஊருக்கு வந்து இந்தக் குளத்தில் குளித்திருக்கலாம். அதனால்தான், இந்தக் குளத்தில் நீர் வற்றுவதேயில்லை! இன்னொரு சாத்தியமும் இருக்கிறது. இப்பொழுது தோப்பாக இருக்கும் இவ்விடத்தில் ஒரு கோயில் இருந்திருக்கக் கூடும். இந்தக் குளம் ஏன் ஒரு புஷ்கர்ணியாக இருந்திருக்க முடியாது?

 

ராமனை எப்பொழுதும் பிரியாமலிருந்தவன் லக்ஷ்மணன்.அவன் ஆதிசேஷன் அவதாரம். இந்தப் பாம்புதான் லக்ஷ்மணனோ? ஏன் ஹிந்தியில் ‘ராம்’ என்று எழுதப்பட்டிருக்கிறது என்பது இப்பொழுது புரிகிறது.

 

இது தேசிய முக்கியத்வம் வாய்ந்த செய்தி. தெய்வ நம்பிக்கையுடைய ஒரு தேசியக் கட்சித் தலைவர்களிடம்  இந்தத் தகவலைச் சொன்னால் இதை எப்படி நாட்டு நலனுக்காகப் பயன்படுத்திக் கொள்வதென்று அவர்களுக்குத் தெரியும். ஆனால் அவர்கள் இதை நம்ப வேண்டுமே! நாளைக்கு ‘மொபைலில்’ படம் பிடித்து, தில்லிக்குப் போய் அவர்களிடம் காட்டலாம்..

 

“நாகு.. இதைப் பத்தி யாருக்கும் சொல்லாதே.. நாம நாளைக்கு டெல்லிக்குப் போவோம்.. இது ரொம்ப முக்கியமான சமாச்சாரம்.. உன்னோட அப்பாகிட்டே சொல்லி உன்னை நான் கூட்டிண்டு போறேன்..” என்றார் ஆசிரியர் நாகலிங்கத்திடம்.

 

அடுத்த நாள், அதே சமயத்தில், பாம்பு படம் எடுத்து அவர் படம் எடுக்கக் காத்திருப்பது போல் நின்றது. அவர் படம் எடுத்தார். தாமும் அக்கட்சித் தலவர்களில் ஒருவராக ஆகும் வாய்ப்பு நெருங்க்கிக் கொண்டிருக்கின்றது என்ற மகிழ்ச்சியில் அவர் மனம் நிறைந்திருந்தது.

 

தில்லியில் அவர் அக்கட்சித் தலைவர்களைச் சந்தித்தார். புகைப் படத்தைக் காண்பித்தார். அந்த ஊரைப் பற்றிய ஒர் ஸ்தல புராணத்தை அவரே உருவாக்கி அது கர்ண பரம்பரைச் செய்தி என்றும் கூறினார்.

 

‘ராநாமத்தை’த் தன் படத்தில் தாங்கிய பாம்பு தேசியப் புகழ் பெற்றது. ஆசிரியர் எடுத்த படம் எல்லா தேசியத் தொலைக் காட்சி ‘சானல்’களிலும், பத்திரிகைகளிலும் பிரபலமாகியது.

 

ஒரு குறிப்பிட்ட நாளில் இந்தக் காட்சியைக் காண, தேசிய, சர்வ தேசிய பத்திரிகைக்காரர்களும், புகைப்படக் காரர்களும், அச்சிற்றூரை முற்றுகை இட்டனர்.

 

நாகலிங்கத்தின் படிப்புச் செலவு முழுவதையும் தாம் ஏற்றுக் கொள்வதாக ஒர் தேசியத் தலைவர் அறிவித்தார். ராம நாமம் தாங்கிய பாம்பின் தரிசனம் அவனுக்கன்றோ முதலில் கிட்டிற்று.!

 

மாலை அந்தக் குறிப்பிட்ட நேரத்தில், ஒரு ரஜினி படத்தில் அவர் ‘என்ட்ரி’ க்காக, முதல்நாள், முதல் ‘ஷோ’வில், அவருடைய ரஸிகர்கள் காத்திருப்பது போல், எல்லோரும்காத்துக் கொண்டிருந்தனர்.

 

பாம்பு வந்தது. ஆனால் அதன் படத்தில் அரபி எழுத்துக்களால் ஏதோ எழுதப்பட்டிருந்தது!