Chillara Samaram (Malayalam) captures the struggle of retail traders against the pro big trader’s policy of the local administration of a town. Director Arun Lal, his cast and crew transformed an objective reality into vivid imagery and the stage property into characters, transcending language barriers. Conceptualised neatly and intricately, it entertains us and makes us believe in the ultimate victory of the oppressed. The play was staged at the 14th Mahindra Excellence in Theatre Awards (META) and festival at Shri Ram Centre recently.
Written by M.P. Rajesh and produced by Little Earth School of Theatre Kerala Malappuram, Kerala, the play opens with the stoppage of small coins in circulation by the authorities. This is resented by small traders who find it very hard to run their business without small coins and may lead to the ruination of their business and the big traders will prosper at their cost. Since the stoppage of small coins have created problems for common man throughout the country, the audience relate with the characters representing small traders. The victims of this high-handed policy of the civic authorities of the town do not submit to the policy; they resist it and unite themselves to raise their voice.
Gradually, the play acquires dramatic conflict with the big money and the property owning class represented by the image of dollar fighting with small traders symbolised by coins. In the process of the struggle, the big money overpowers the struggling masses, reducing them as a mere cog in the machine of their productive forces, alienating them from their roots and social mores. In the long drawn-out struggle, the small traders regain their freedom to carry on their trade.
In the production, there runs subtle under currents of neo-colonial economic exploitation of the developing countries. It also exposes that the hollowness of the slogan of development by the ruling class to create an environment of falls hope in the people to perpetuate status quo. “Chillara Samaram” is a subtle political play without resorting to slogans. This kind of play is rarely seen these days when some plays are based on mythology and some depict characters obsessed with despair or nihilism.
The production combines the element of physical theatre that imparts to it a great deal of vitality and folk music highlighting the inherent optimism of the people. The song that sings about mud and people who live in mud symbolically suggests the struggle of common man united to resist the ban on small coins. The narrative with vivid visuals formed by performers gives powerful political and social statement. The ensemble acting is excellent, displaying remarkable sense of timing.
Mahesh Elkunchawar is eminent playwright of contemporary Indian theatre who writes in Marathi but his plays have been translated into a number of Indian language and performed throughout India. In Delhi, almost all his plays in Hindi translation have been presented under leading theatre practitioners including E. Alkazi, Satyadev Dubey and Anuradha Kapur. In this process, the audience has been able to watch his wada trilogy in Hindi version. Theatre Tatkal Bengaluru, Karnataka has performed the second part of the trilogy at Shri Ram Centre in Kannada translation by Nandini KR and Prashanth Hiremath as Kola.
Directed by Achutha Kumar, those who have seen the first part of trilogy titled “Wada Chire Bandi” as “Virasat” in Hindi will be able to understand better the background of the characters in the second part and yet it tends to be an independent theatrical work.
Set in the early 80s, the first part opens in a rural area in Vidarbha, Maharashtra. It moves round a feudal Brahaminical aristocratic family which is on the decline. The members of the family are unable to reconcile with a society changing fast, socially and economically. “Kola”, the second part, also opens in the mansion of a Brahaminical aristocrat who is facing great hardships.
Gradually, old characters with physical and mental changes are brought about on the stage. Parag, the son of elder brother Bhaskar, who remains stuck to the land, has become part of emerging social lumpen elements, earning money by resorting to illegal means, in collaboration with local officials. He is married. Mumbai-settled brother Sudhir comes to the ancestral mansion with his wife Anjali and son Abhay, a medical doctor doing research in the USA. Parag is hostile to them. There is reference to Ranju, the daughter of Bhaskar, who eloped with her private tutor with all the family gold. However, Sudhir manages to bring her home and she is married off to protect family honour – this was depicted in the first part. In “Kola”, we meet Prabha, the spinster, who is sister of Bhaskar and Sudhir whose dream of studying in a college and getting married is shuttled in the name of family honour. We meet the shadow of unmarried third brother Chandu who died in the first part because the family could not provide him treatment. The image is in conversation with ageing mother in slow and subdued tones with a touch of sadness.
In the production two scenes – the death of Prabha and Amma dreaming of talking to Chandu – leave a lasting impact. Nandini Patavardhan as Prabha, who is utterly neglected and confined to a corner, remains silent throughout the show and deeply touches the heart of the audience.
The first part ends with bitterness and inner turmoil of the characters. “Kola” too ends on a grim note with characters’ dilemma unresolved. Abhay leaves the decaying ancestral mansion with the resolve to continue his research work in the US and Parag is taken away by the police force to be sent behind bars.