The Lokadharmi Theatre enacted a play, 'Viswavikhyathamaya mookku' (The World-Renowned Nose), based on a story by Vaikom Mohammed Basheer. The group has staged more than 40 plays till now
Photo of Director Chadradasan by Suresh Nampoothiri
By Shevlin Sebastian
At the start of the play, 'Viswavikhyathamaya mookku' (The World-Renowned Nose), held recently at the JT Pac, Kochi, 14 men and women, dressed in black T-shirts and trousers glide on to the stage. The stage has very little props: a wooden door, a stool, and a few boxes.
The actors carry on making slow-motion movements. Then all of a sudden all of them wear masks which are placed on a low box on the stage. “The idea to wear the masks is to make the faces look exaggerated,” says director Chandradasan, of the Lokadharmi Theatre.
As for the reason behind all the actors wearing black costumes, he says, “To project the face, black is the best colour. That is why I avoided all the other colours. And I wanted to give the feeling that everybody is the same.”
Chandradasan also decided to do away with scenery, costumes, and music. “It was a challenge for the actors to sustain the interest of the audience, without such tools,” says Chandradasan. But they did succeed in holding the audience's attention with elaborate movements and gestures.
The script is based on Vaikom Mohammed Basheer's classic story, 'Viswavikhyathamaya mookku', which was published in 1954. In the play, it is about a chef who works in a hotel. On his 24th birthday, his nose starts to grow. And it only stops growing when it reaches the navel.
People flock to see him. The owner has no option but to sack him, since the commotion is hampering his business. Then for several days, the man and his mother are starving. Then slowly, the mother realises the value of the nose. She succumbs to the temptation of accepting money and allowing people to see her freak son.
Meanwhile, political parties try to get him on their side. And the media has a field day covering all the brouhaha.
“The story is relevant to our contemporary life,” says Chandradasan. “It reveals the manipulation of a person by politicians and the media. And how all this has an effect on the man.”
Three years later, the long-nosed man has become an important figure in society. “He becomes rich and famous,” says Chandradasan. “Then he acts in a film. At rock bottom the play is a social satire.”
Interestingly, it is a satire that uses a mix of Malayalam and gibberish. “Basheer has created a lot of gibberish in his work,” says Chandradasan. “It was an extension of what he has done.”
As for the cast, the highlight for them was the presence of superstar Mohanlal, who is the chairman of JT Pac. “Most of the cast members knew he was present, because he was sitting in the front row,” says Chandradasan.
After the show, the actor came up on stage and publicly complimented the cast. “It was a well-choreographed play, and the actors gave a fine performance,” said Mohanlal. Some overwhelmed cast members went and touched Mohanlal's feet.
Chandradasan started the Lokadharmi Theatre in 1991, along with 25 other enthusiasts at Tripunithara. Today, there is a group of 150 actors and actresses, who come from all walks of life. So there are students, advocates, engineers, headload workers, painters and teachers.
Chandradasan, himself, is a teacher of chemistry at St. Albert's College, Kochi.
So far, Lokadharmi has staged more than 40 plays. They include 'Chattan Kattu' (an Indianised adaptation of 'The Tempest' by William Shakespeare), 'Poranadi' ('The Outcast' by KN Panicker), 'Medea' (the Indian adaptation of the Greek classic by Euripides), 'Macbeth' by Shakespeare and 'Karnabharam' (The Anguish of Karnna – a Sanskrit play by Bhasa).
In fact, 'Karnabharam' won best stage design, best costume design and best play in the Mahindra Excellence in Theatre Awards, 2008. When it was staged in Delhi, one of India's most popular playwrights, Habib Tanvir told Chandradasan, “I enjoyed every inch of the play.” Says a moved Chandradasan, “It was the best compliment that I have received in my career.”
Lokadharmi also runs 'Mazhavillu', a children's theatre at Changampuzha Park, Kochi. Boys and girls between 10 and 17 do improvisations, games, play readings and other theatre activities.
However, the team faces an uphill struggle because of the poor status of theatre in Kerala. “The audience does not have the habit of buying a ticket,” says Chandradasan. “They want to watch a play for free. In our society, people pay for everything, except for theatre. The group is finding it difficult because there are no sponsors, and no help from the government.”
Another problem is the lack of space to perform. So Chandradasan has invested his own money, around Rs 1 crore, to start a theatre in the Vypeen Islands. “It will be a place where research, training and performances will take place,” he says.
And he is going to ensure it is a successful venture. In March, 2015, Chandradasan, who has won a six-month Fulbright Fellowship for Professional and Academic Excellence, will be going to the USA to study how theatre is managed there.
(The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram)