Thursday, March 18, 2010


Thamil folk theatre comes alive again

An enthralled audience of mainly Sinhala and Thamil theatre people sat spellbound in silence for nearly 90 minutes witnessing a Thamil folk play peculiar to the people in the Maddakkalappu region in the Vadamodi mode.

The title of the play is, Ravanesan - written, choreographed and directed by Emeritus Professor S. Maunaguru. The enraptured silence and the standing ovation by everybody in the audience was for the overall presentation neat and professional and accentuated by the final scene of a vigorous rhythm arising from percussion instruments, singing with a blend of folk tunes characteristic of Naaddu Koothu with light carnatic ragas and quick movements of the action concerned by the protagonist sand the antagonist Ravana Versus Rama.

Regular thetregoers would have remembered Ediriweera Sarahchandra’s Maname and Sinhabahu which were greatly inspired by the Naaddu Koothu of the Lankan Thamilians. Also who are accustomed to the Greek plays would have seen the similarity in the Greek and Thamil Folk theatre as far as the role of the Chorus in the play.

Prof. S.Vithiyananthan


The content of the play in the Koothu tradition is adapted from Kamban’s Ramayana in Thamil and its shows specifically the encounter between Ravana and Rama each justifying their Dharma in their own terms. Ravana’s wife Mandothai tries her best to dissuade her husband not to release the imprisoned Seetha, wife of Rama and avoid the war, but the hero in Ravana wouldn’t listen as he has a genuine hubris especially when Rama would not kill Ravana when the latter was fatigued in the tussle fighting and asking him to come the following day to fight again. Mandothari says at several time it is the women and children who suffer in war when men goes for war.

I particularly liked the performance of Suyananthi as Another in her voce modulation, clarity in enunciation, nice voice, delicate movements and expressions that connect with the audience. Thavarasa as Andradite, son of Ravana was electrifying with his movements and dance.

Thayaparan and Vivekanada Raja as Rama and Lakshmanan were also doing their parts well. Almost all the players did a splendid job in presenting their parts. Dilakshana as the charioteer of Ravana was splendid I thought in her expression and movements to suit the scene. Jeyashankar played his role very well in way to show that Ravana as a person was also a man of total personality despite his lust for Seetha. But he never touched her and only to her in captivity as a revenge to take for Laksmnan cutting the nose of his sister Soorpanakai and disfiguring her face.

A scene from Ravanesan

It was a restrained d performance without any over playing. He too danced well and his voice production could have been a little better. The singers were marvelous and refrains helped the audience to understand what the players were saying and singing. The costume and properties of the play were handsomely executed by Vasuki Jeyashankar. Vimalraj was the assistant director to Maunaguru.

The pamphlets issued to the audience in all three languages explained enough information of the stagecraft of the play and the significance of this play in Lankan Thamil theatre veteran artiste Dharmasiri Banadaranaike and Prof. S. Maunaguru have written little notes in the pamphlet. The play was produced or rather revived as a respect in memory of a Lankan intellectual, the late Neelan Tiruchelvam.

Musings on Ravanesan

In the 1960’s the late Prof Vithiyananthan inspired by the creative work of the late Prof E. R. Sarachandra in the Sinhala theatre took Vadamody and Then mody kooththu styles of Batticaloa for his kooththu revival and modified it to fit in to the picture frame stage for modern audience. Students of Peradeniya University took part in this modification process of the late Prof Vithiyananthan in the 1960s and Prof S. Maunaguru who was at that time an undergraduate of the same university, not only play the Ravanan role but also composed the script with the guidance of the late Prof Vithiyananthan and K. Sivathamy.

After 40 years Maunaguru has been producing Ravanesan in a different style.

Prof Maunaguru’s Ravanesan is totally an innovation in every aspect of the theatre. It is an excellent artistic creation.

It’s acting, stage props, costumes and music are excellent. The original use of screens used without a break throughout the play should be regarded as a very creative development in modern stage craft.

Dharmasiri Bandaranaike, Director, Tricome Cultural Foundation, Colombo

Vadamody Kooththu is an old traditional theatre among the theatrical forms of Eastern Sri Lanka. This narrative theatre composed with music and dance has been traditionally performed in the villages all throughout the night in the vaddakkalari (round stage).

In this production of Ravanesan the potential theatrical element of the rich kooththu tradition have been exploited to create a new influential theatre.

No longer relegated to simple revival of a traditional form, but also the extension and innovation from within that tradition, evolving into new forms.

We are the buds of a long rich dramatical tradition of Sri Lankan Tamils.

The great artists who protect this tradition and Prof Vithiyananthan have been remembered here with lot of respects.

Director, Ravanesan.

By: K.S.Sivakumaran
Courtesy: Imprint, Artsscope, Daily News(24.02.2010)

Friday, March 12, 2010

Mourning Conflict: Embodied Performance in Ravanesan

Cat’s Eye

Mourning Conflict: Embodied Performance in Ravanesan

Ravanesan, written and directed by Professor Maunaguru, was staged in Colombo on February 11th and 12th at the Lionel Wendt Theater as one of three events commemorating Dr. Neelan Tiruchelvam’s birthday. Most of the performers were trained by the Drama Department at the Eastern University in Batticaloa,where they are faculty and students. My limited Tamil made me wonder how I would appreciate a classical performance in the Vadamodi Kuththu style. A plot synopsis was given to us in all three languages to facilitate this. The following observations are thus from the perspective of a non-Tamil speaker who thoroughly enjoyed the visual and performative aspects of the play, and was finally able to witness Maunaguru’s brilliance.

War and Mourning

The play inverts the dominant narrative of the Ramayana to make Ravana the protagonist. This shift, however, does not mean that Ravana is the hero of the play. We witness six rounds of battle between the forces of Ravana and Rama. Despite pleas against war by his wife Mandothari and their son Indrajith, Ravana refuses their advice and insists on battle. As we witness the cycles of fighting, injury, and loss, the tediousness of war impacts us. "Do people really continue to fight on and on, and kill each other in this way? Is it possible that humans can be this destructive?" we are forced to ask ourselves. As the play propels itself toward its tragic end, we are finally given a space to mourn and bear witness to loss.

In Sri Lanka’s postwar context, victorious, national, anti-terrorist discourses have given little space for communities to mourn our years of murders, disappearances, rapes and torture. Post-war elections and our political leaders’ rapacious desire for power have further provided little space for grief. This play forces us to come to terms with loss and suffering, using a form and medium that seems to transcend the linguistic barriers that normally divide communities. Perhaps a traditional stylized form of theater based on dance and song enables a certain mode of translation that prose cannot. We can also see that while normally dominant mythic narratives are used to prop up nationalist rhetoric and produce a continuum between mythic wars and present wars, mythic history can also critique the present.

Screening the Public Sphere

The place of the chorus in relation to mourning is also interesting. The members of the chorus carried screens in front of their bodies that were green on one side and white on the other. The colors switched when the mood and the intensity of the play shifted. This chorus was emblematic of an embattled public that voiced its opinion, but was also subservient to the whims and fancies of Ravana and the aristocracy. The final battle for me resonated strongly with the recently-concluded war in Sri Lanka. Ravana, having lost his brother Kumbakarna and son Indrajith to Rama’s forces, faced them for the final battle. Throughout the battle he seemed aware that he was likely to lose, and so fear and cunning motivate him to hide behind the public and the screens they hold up. Rama and his forces kill these human shields to win the war. We are reminded sharply of the mass killings of civilian populations by two armies in Eelam War IV. Both Rama’s forces and Ravana are shown for what they are. They are more interested in power and winning the war than protecting humans.

Embodied Violence: Gender and Performance

In the normally masculine theater of war, women are left out of debates and decision making. Often they are used as the excuses for warfare. Sita, the abducted woman, is used by Rama as his reason for war. Sita’s absence on stage marks her complete silence.

Interestingly, Mandothari, Ravana’s wife, is given a fair amount of stage time. She is the dominant voice of dissent, urging Ravana to avoid the bloodshed and the loss that will ensue in warfare. The play ends with her mourning over the body of Ravana, aggrieved but not destroyed in spirit. Mandothari is the only heroic figure in the play. She is left at the end of the play to imagine a possible future. She marks the gendered space of mourning and reminds us of women in movements like the Mothers Fronts, who have attempted to negotiate public space.

Her performance was so powerful and magnificent that it reminded me of the power of embodied practice as a system of learning, storing, and transmitting knowledge. At the end of the play Mandothari carries within her body the pain of loss and suffering, but also of hope because she is the one figure who remained critical of violence and war throughout the play.

Thursday, March 11, 2010



Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Unbound- a performance project

Prakriti Foundation


Unbound- a performance project

dedicated to the centenary of Hind Swaraj and based on the Swaraj writings of Mahatma Gandhi and J.C. Kumarappa Additional text: Mahatma and his ism by EMS, Social Justice: Identity Politics by Nancy Fraser, Buddha or Karl Marx by B.R Ambedkar, Dalit Rights are Human Rights by Clifford Bob and writings and sayings of Srimad Rajchandra Direction, design and dramaturgy: Parnab Mukherjee

performers: Parnab Mukherjee and Cordis Paldano

installation: C. Krishnapriya

About the director:

An independent media analyst and a performance consultant by profession, Mr. Parnab Mukherjee is one of the leading alternative theatre directors' of the country. He divides his time between Kolkata, Imphal and the Darjeeling hills.Currently, a consultant with two publication initiatives, he has earlier worked for a sports fortnightly, an English daily and a Bengali daily. He is an acclaimed authority on Badal Sircar's theatre, Shakespeare-in-education and specialises in theatre-for-conflict-resolution and theatre-of-the-campus.
He is considered as a leading light in alternative theatre in the country having directed more than 150 full-length/workshop productions. These include full-length plays, workshop performances, theatre interventions, structured work-in-progress and installation-based performance.
Parnab has created a personal idiom of using spaces for theatre exploration. He has extensively worked on a range of human rights issues which include specific theatre projects on anti-uranium project struggle in Jadugoda, Save Tenzin campaign, rehabilitation after industrial shutdowns, shelter issue of the de-notified tribes, a widely acclaimed cycle of 12 plays against Gujarat genocide, and a range of issues on north-east with special reference to Armed Forces Special Powers Act, 1958.
He is the artistic director of Best of Kolkata Campus- an autonomous non-registered performance collective and a performance foundry, that has completed 18 years of doing dedicated theatre in found spaces and public arena.
Some of the most memorable productions of the collective include Trilogy of Unrest (Hamletmachine, Necropolis, This room is not my room), The Country with a post office, Rehearsing Antigone, Raktakarabi-an urban sound opera, Bhul Rasta, Kasper-dipped and shredded, They Also Work, River Monologues, Dead-Talk series, Conversations with the dead, Crisis of Civilisation, Shakespeare shorts, Man to Man talk, Inviting Ibsen for a Dinner with Ibsen, Your path wrong path and And the Dead Tree Gives no Shelter.
Four of his major workshop modules: Freedomspeak, The Otherness of the Body, Conflict as a Text and The Elastic Body have been conducted with major theatre groups and campuses all over the country. He has written four books of performance texts.He curates a series called Talk Gandhi specifically to integrate places all over the country related to Gandhi with events that incorporate the dissent writings of that place.