Tuesday, May 15, 2018

a Koothuful Night

It was a nice oppurtunity to catch a therukkoothu performance happening in the city. I had all night to myself, with family away, and could afford to take rest the next day from work. so i did not want to miss the oppurtunity of getting to experience Theatre all night. I had once got to experience this when a couple of years earlier Ponniyin selvan was staged at Purisai. i traveled all the way to the village near Vandavsi to experience theatre at that hallowed venue for theatre. 

The full range of Dramatics, the span and wealth of this rich tradition of Bharath Koothu was presented to me on a platter in a documentary, 'Kelaai Draupadai'  made by Shashikanth. The film maker had spent many sleepless nights capturing the entire gamut of the Bharatham play. He had called it Kelai Draupadi as both the parayanam ad the theatre happen in a way of telling Draupadi the story of Mahabharatha. The story of the war unviels in a way matching and corresponding to the events of the day in the 18 day Kurukshetra war.
Poster of Sashi's Docu

The occassion this time was of Bharatha Koothu happening at adjuncts of festival in Draupathi temple off Eldams Road in Teynampet, near Tatvaloka, promptly brought to my notice   by an artist friend who was following the festival from first to the last day, documenting it.The festivities had started on Chithirai and continued for the entire month. There was Bharatham exposition in the evenings from 6pm, wherein chapters from Mahabaratham were naratted with music and songs. The exposition was followed at 10 pm by enactment in street Theatre the contents of the evenings exposition.
I was fascinated by the elaborate arrangements that had been made and surprised at how the spirit of village lived gloriously in a little pocket in the city amidst all the hustle. The venue for the Bharatha parayanam was a very spacious hall attached to the Draupadi temple. I was happy to find such spacious hall for performance ( as good as Asthika samajam in Alwarpet) in such a cramped neighborhood. 

The koothu was being performed by Angalaparameswari troupe from Veedur near Tindivanam. I visited the festivities on the 25 th day of Chithirai and got to listen to portions of Arjuna being cursed by Urvasi in the Parayanam in the evening and managed to catch the action in koothu for a couple of hours that night. I hurried back to catch sleep, to face my next day at office.

But two days later, i had the night to myself and the next day off, so i could catch the full action. It was, however,  sad that i could not catch the parayanam that evening. Listening to the Parayanam, helps you makes sense of finer aspects of the koothu, i had gathered on my previous scuttled visit. On this night it was the valor of Abhimanyu that was being enacted. The story itself had a few new things to offer. it was interesting learn of the accident as a result of which Abhimanyu, in the womb gets absorbed by a demon's spirit. It is here that i missed the Parayanam, it would have educated me on these finer details.

The performance itself was unfolding like a magic. i was watching it with a sense of awe, constantly aware of my pithy surrounding, while looking up to the stellar performance this troupe was weaving out of thin air. I was in a crowd of about hundred people sitting on a street, facing a temple, at the gates of which the platform was set, ( some lying down and already asleep, but still don't want to retire to their home; young lads testing their ability to stay awake, not really bothering to follow the play absorbed in their own gossip, reveling in breaking the rule of drab rule of sleeping in the night)I was constantly battling to ward off the stench from the drainage near by; struggling to save my self from a potential infection from the continuous coughs of this seemingly TB stricken man sitting next to me; perennially bothered by the inconvenience in sitting for long; always wondering how late into the night it was, wondering how are the actors keeping the tempo up, wondering what were they going to do to keep the audience engaged and restrain from dozing off; constantly looking out for a better place to move, without causing a stir in the audience, raptly absorbed in the performance. 

The performers had the daunting task of keeping me engaged in spite of all this, and i was fascinated by the magic they kept weaving, in keeping me hitched to the play.The little nondescript space on the street that was the stage underwent magical and spiritual transformations with the verve, colour, spirit and energy they brought in with their simple music and spirited performances. The music had just two components- a pair of cymbals and a couple of drums, and of course the magnetic voice of some of the performers. It was sad that most of them had lost their voices. The players knew their strengths and played to it.

PC Prabhu Kalidas

The best part of the play i loved was the way the boys in the troupe transformed into fine and attractive looking ladies, complete with mannerisms, grace in movement, voice, resplendence of a woman and energy in dancing. One thing that kept me busy and hooked during the course of the play was to try and guess which boy actor was going to turn up as a lady next. They thrilled and surprised me every time.I guess this was a crucial tactic in keeping the lay audience hooked to the performances. ( at the end of the night's performance i was eager to catch up with the person responsible for making up the artist. i surprised and humbled to learn that they did not have one and that the artists made themselves up)
PC: Prabhu Kalidoss, and Raja sekar Pandiyan

The performances were liberally laced with common place dialogues and diatribes. This is another little shock factor that keeps the audience amused and engaged. 

It was a very educative, humbling and a memorable night, experiencing street theater in all its glory, live and fabulous. 

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