Strong theatre continues to influence society
What is the relevance of theatre in the contemporary society? Does it influence our collective psyche as much as other ‘mass’ mediums such as cinema?
'Veendum Bhagavante Maranam', by Thiruvananthapuram based Kanal Cultural Society, is a Malayalam play that can prove all debaters wrong as to whether theatre continues to be a medium that communicates efficiently with the society. The play, directed by Hazim Amaravila and performed by 23 artistes, manages to provoke a reaction out of the audience through its commentary on the state of contemporary Indian society. The provocation works really well because at one point the audience too becomes part of the play.
‘Veendum Bhagavante Maranam’ is based on KR Meera’s short story by the same name. The play has so far been performed in more than 35 venues across India.
KR Meera wrote the story immediately after the murder of MM Kalburgi. In the author’s own words, “The murder of Kalburgi, Pansare, Dabholkar gave a clear pattern and a clear message to those who were alive in the society. They were all scholars and all of them vehemently opposed a particular stream of thought. The story was created in the context where I felt the need to awaken the memories of these scholars who were held at gun points. Bhagwan, based on the character of KS Bhagawan, is the central character in KR Meera’s story. .” However, the play is not just a direct adaptation of the text.
The director Hazim Amaravila intelligently designs a meta drama in which the characters, a bunch of theatre artists, are rehearsing for the play based on KR Meera’s story ‘ Veendum Bhagavante Maranam’. The ‘meta’ drama places the play both in the world of Meera’s story, where Bhagawan is the main character and as well as in the world of the ‘real’ artistes, where they have to be careful about their creative choices. It is interesting how the lines between the two worlds gradually start getting ambiguous as it progresses. Both worlds do not overlap each other, but it fills the gap of each story line.
For instance, we are not shown, in the ‘meta’ drama, how the character of Bhagwan was killed and how he was succeeded by the man who set out to murder him in the beginning of the play and later became his disciple. Instead the audience is shown a beautiful passage in which an artiste in the play takes up the role of the director in his absence and thereby prompting us to make the necessary assumptions.
When both the worlds in the play are put together, it paints a realistic portrayal of the nature of our society today. The political message that it conveys is hard hitting. “There isn’t a lot of people here who are aware of the existence of a man called KS Bhagawan and that he was also listed along with Kalburgi, Pansare, Gauri Lankesh in the hit list. They don’t know that he is still not allowed to go out of his house because of the threat to his life” said one of the artistes involved in the play.
“One of the biggest acknowledments we received was when KS Bhagawan himself turned to watch us perform in Mysore. We were all taken aback by his gesture. We knew that he was not allowed to move out of his house after a certain time owing to security reasons. But he broke his cordon to see our performance. That meant a great deal to us” said the director Hazim Amaravila.
The success of the play meant that they were able to perform all over the country with their play, including the 20th edition of ‘Bharath Rang Mahotsav’ International Theatre Festival. But they aware of the dangers posed to certain elements who feel threatened by their play. They had to encounter an unpleasant experience even as recently as on January 30, when they went to perform at a temple in Thrissur.
“The police asked us strange questions and told us that ours is a problematic play. Some of those questions were similar to the ones asked by the Police characters in our play. One shopkeeper even denied us tea saying it would affect his shop and business later. We felt strange after that,” said Kannan Nayar, one of the actors. “But, during the course of the play, we also saw that more 100 volunteers came forward to protect us. A couple of officers came in plain clothes and told us to go ahead with the play and that they would ensure our safety. Such gestures filled us with a lot of energy and confidence, not just for the night but for our future endeavours as well” he added.
The significance of ‘Veendum Bhagavante Maranam’ cannot be measured in terms of the awards it was able to win and the number of stages it was staged, beyond that play and its artistes have been able to bring people together and provoke a reaction out of them. The play also registers its mark of dissent at a time when one has to be willing to pay a great price for it.