Monday, 5 December 2016

Entrenched, Rooted and Grounded in the Chola heartland!

A historical romance that pre-dates a thousand years,

A work of epical proportions that brings to life in ‘flesh and blood’ the historical valour, culture, love and might of the Tamils from the glorious Chola empire, in all its charm,

   Vaanar Kulathu Vallavarayan 'Vandhiyathevan'
A work that in over 2400 pages spread over five volumes of ‘well-wrought’ ‘mighty lines’ of Kalki, and celebrated as one of the finest modern works in Tamil Literature, has an impact that outlives its milieu,

A work that, [like Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities mixes fact with fiction], blends fact with fiction with such ease and alacrity that Poonkuzhali, Murugaiyan, or Nandini or Mandakini ‘transfix you for eternity’ like the factual ones do, in the novel!

When such a legendary work comes alive on stage in your own backyard, who on earth would want to give it a miss?

Periya Piratti and Madurantaka
Well, YES… we – a bevy of besties - were all in attendance at the Vani Mahal even an hour before the start of the play this last Sunday evening – a pleasant day at that – when the weather gods were kind enough not to play truant – and blessed us with their cosy evening ‘winter winds’, that we were promptly cajoled into taking a quick ‘detour’ to the next door Pothys for a hot cuppa filter coffee to drink of the caffeinic delights thereof down ‘to the lees’!!!

After coffee, we walked down Vani Mahal, and we were doubly delighted to see the eponymous ‘students’-saviour’ aka ‘Rain Man’ Ramanan who was also part of the spectacular array of spectators. The moment he was ‘spotted’ by his enthusiastic fans amongst the crowd, curious eyes and smiling faces made a beeline to him and vied with one another to get themselves clicked for ‘posterity’! One lady – a part of the ‘frenzied groupies’ who had gathered around him – says, ‘Sir, we miss you. You shouldn’t have retired!’ He acknowledged her gracefully and replied with his trademark smile, ‘Everyone has to retire someday, Isn’t it?’
A few yards away, we could also spot a few other celebrities including ‘Crazy Mohan’ and the like. But what surprised us about the Sunday evening, was the extraordinary presence of teenagers and families alike – who had sacrificed their ‘Sunday delights’ to come and witness a historical saga brought to life in front of them.

Though previous performances of the play by many troupes couldn’t ration the length of the duration of the play to less than four hours, the TVK Cultural team has done enormous spadework in bringing down the duration of this epical play to a span of just three hours! Kudos to them on that!

Although the story revolves around Arulmozhivarman’s return – the prince who later went on to become King Raja Raja Chola] Vandiyathevan, the handsome, dynamic and valorous young man dominates or rather steals the show spot on, right from scene one!

The story shuttles with consummate ease between different locales – be it the seashore with a lighthouse for a backdrop, or the high seas where there’s a mighty and disastrous tidal wave, or in Sri Lanka, or in Nandini’s antapura, or Madurantaka’s fiefdom, the make-believe canvass is quite believable! The flipping between scenes doesn’t take much of time, with scene-changes rarely take more than 15 seconds each, what with the light fading and black outs adding depth to the changes!

The love scenes between Kundavai and Vandiyatheven are graceful with a soulful number propping up as a regaling backdrop! The vassals, serfs and petty chieftains also play their part with elan!

There were a few guffaws too at intermittent places, as when Periya piratti says, ‘surely you will get a place only in heaven oops in hell!’ when the audience was in splits! There were no dearth of guffaws too!

Achebe’s TFA has a wonderful line in the opening chapter, thus: “Among the Igbo the art of conversation is regarded very highly, and proverbs are the palm-oil with which words are eaten”. This line holds good for the ancient Tamil society whose conversations were almost always interspersed with wise and witty proverbs that serve as ornamental decors to their verbosities!

Presenting below a few proverbs and sayings that I was able to pick up from the play:

கை புண்ணுக்கு கண்ணாடி எதற்கு?

அரண்டவன் கண்ணுக்கு இருண்டது எல்லாம் பேய்!

தந்தையை மிஞ்சிய தனையனாக இருப்பான்.

தலைக்கு  வந்த ஆபத்து தலைப்பாயோடு போனது!

அத்தைக்கு மீசை முளைத்தால் சித்தப்பா ஆகிவிடமுடியாது!

சூதும் சூழ்ச்சியும் அரசுக்கு எப்போதுமே வெற்றியை தராது!

முடிசார்ந்த மன்னரும் மற்றுமுள்ளோரும் முடிவில் ஒரு
பிடி சாம்பராய் வெந்து மண்ணவதுங் கண்டு பின்னும் இந்தப்
படிசார்ந்த வாழ்வை நினைப்பதல்லால் பொன்னின் அம்பலவர்
அடிசார்ந்து நாம் உய்யவேண்டும் என்றே அறிவாரில்லையே

வார்த்தைகள் வைரத்தை விட வலிமை வாய்ந்தது
வைரத்தை கூட அள்ளிவிடலாம் ஆனால் வார்த்தைகளை அள்ளமுடியாது!

Right from romance, to comedy and action, you’ve got everything in rationed proportions throughout the play. Since it was their 50th performance, the organizers had earlier announced that there wouldn’t be any breaks whatsoever. But needless to say, none of us among the packed audience of spectators (from row A to Zee), could fathom for ourselves how quickly the three hours flitted us by in a jiffy!

      Ponniyin Selvan - in five-volumes
From eight year olds to eighty-year olds, almost everyone was there with utmost concentration – Spellbound, transfixed, and waiting for the subsequent scenes to unfold with bated breath!

A few characters steal our hearts! Be it Vandiyathevan, or Nandhini, or Poonkulazhi or Kundavai or the old King who is sick in bed, or the host of nobles and chieftains! They lay claim to your hearts right from the first move!

What attracted everyone amongst the audience was the tremendous display of discipline and coordination amongst the artists!

Well, it was indeed heartwarming to see the astounding reception accorded to a mighty historical romance in Tamil, made into an equally absorbing play!

A dignified tribute to a legendary artist!

Testimony to the fact that, the universality of Kalki would indeed stand tall tall tall beyond the confines of the ravages of the kala called ‘time’!

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