Two years ago I caught my first “Puthiya Uthiram” (New Blood) by Ravindran Drama Group. Puthiya Uthiram is a yearly production that is aimed at getting new directors and brand new artistes involved in theatre and providing them a platform to further their dreams of putting their thoughts to papers and then to stage.
I was rather impressed the first time I caught Saleem Hadi’s maiden production “Saakadai” (Filth) and Subramaniam Ganesh’s “Sathai” (Flesh) and blogged about my on the surface thoughts here. After re-reading the entry, I realised I said very little in the hopes that I would once again get to see “Saakadai” targetted at a slightly larger audience. However, 2 years down and it has never quite resurfaced.
Last year, I went to watch Puthiya Uthiram with the same fervour hoping I would get to see more geniuses like Saleem Hadi get a chance to display their work. However, “Nangu Suvargalukul” (Within 4 Walls) and “Kurugiya Vattam” (Narrow Circle), did not impress me or in any manner leave much of a good or a bad impression. Theatre that is just average is honestly quite disappointing – theatre can be bad, theatre can be great – but forgettable theatre is simply sad as theatre is so dynamic and has the propensity to be so impactful that when it slides past you, its quite a waste. Nevertheless, nothing quite captured me enough to write up till today.
Today, I caught Puthiya Uthiram for the 3rd year running. The bills featured were “Outsiders” by Karthik Prahad and “Hanuman:The Awakening” by James Kumar.
It is always exciting to see complete new faces at any production because it shows the dynamism of an organisation and their ability to keep progressing forward. In that sense, kudos to RDG because I saw a bevy of new faces – proving that even established organisations need not bank on their usual stable of stars to provide us A grade productions.
The Outsiders was a semi-abstract play that revolved around 5 main characters and the setting of a bar. With many allegories made to the concepts of Plato’s Cave , the play revolved around identities and the relationships between the 5 people. The question that had been posed through most of their promotional work was “Who are the outsiders?” To be frank, I still have no freakin’ clue. I found the play very loaded and noisy. Noisy here does not refer to loud, audible sounds but instead the fact that the play was peppered with far too many little jabs and far-ranging issues and little connections. Dialogues I felt were too long and did not fit in-sync with the characters’ personalities. This was rather disappointing as RDG has always been known to be able to develop their characters to a T.The fact that I have very little to say about the characters individually, except that their behaviour, language and their personalities were very inconsistent is testament to how flat the characters turned out to be.
This is not to say that the play was all bad. There were many little nice issues that were brought up that took tiny jabs at our policies, our identities. Yet, till the end it remains unclear what exactly the play’s vision was. I am all up for abstraction and I do enjoy the surrealism in contemporary plays. However, I dislike plays that promise to say a lot about everything and end up saying nothing at all. This felt like one of those moments. Dialogues were long and sounded like prose extracted from various books – it would have looked fantastic as a script but it was a little silly to maintain that for an actual play. It didn’t help that apart from the two leads, most of the other cast members did not have fantastic diction.
I believe that sincerity and substance are key to a great play. Having a voice is one thing – we are all empowered at some point in time to speak up. But what is it we want to say is another? Outsiders could have been saved the tragedy if someone had stepped in to shave a lot of the other distractions out of the play. With a racy name like The Outsiders and with promises to delve into topics of identity, Plato’s Cave and apathy, I expected the play to be curt, direct and smart. There were glimmers of some talent here and there, but generally I felt the play go flat very often.
Furthermore, I felt that there were many moments of gray area when no one could understand what exactly was being said. It is generally so that in every play, there are a few moments of confusion or a few symbolisms that the general crowd can miss out on. Yet, here I felt that there was so very little I could understand.
However, I do have to credit the director and his cast for having been bold enough to come forth and stand tall in front of an audience to present their work. The debut performance is always the hardest and most exciting and I can only imagine the butterflies everyone must have had in their tummies.
I may have sounded particularly harsh with my judgements, but I strongly believe that it is solid feedback that makes someone better at their skill. I am honest and am not out to hurt anyone’s opinions and au contraire, anyone who decides to step into the line of performance must be ready to accept criticism of sorts with a thick hide. Nevertheless, I congratulate Karthik and his team for having entertained us and presented to us their work.
Hanuman: The Awakening
I honestly had no clue who this director was, nor did any of the faces except the lead protagonist look familiar. I did not know what to expect and quite honestly I was expecting some sort of a substandard play after the 1st half.
However, Hanuman totally blew me away. Hanuman reflected a simple story of a young boy and the strength of the human spirit. A young boy, much awe-inspired by the legacy his father has left him – the protagonist chooses boxing – his father’s passion and also the cause of his father’s death. During his match, he falls flat after being knocked out by his opponent. He wakes up and he is suddenly surrounded by Hanuman (the Hindu monkey-god whom his father told him to always believe in) and Dasa (Hanuman’s arch nemesis). The story continues in a part fantasy, part reality way and once again I am not going to go any further into what happens in the end. I believe endings are best enjoyed watching a performance so for those of you wanting to know, remember to go catch the plays when they happen!
But to put it simply, I was very impressed. A first time director who shone through both film and theatre. A simple, heartwarming clip that started the bill and ended the bill managed to seamlessly connect, not once cutting the tension. I am never a fan of theatre that requires external projections as I believe theatre can speak for itself and should maintain its liveness. Yet, in this one instance, the film managed to be so effective and so real not once projecting away from the realness of the situation.
Secondly, the sound was amazing. The music used was very appropriate and suited the entire theme.
Now the cast. They were mind blowing. Prasad the lead was very convincing. His young outlook made the film projection even more realistic. For some reason, I expected this boy to come onto stage and do a major overacting since he has had a lot of TV experience. Yet, he managed to be realistic and maintain his composure very well. His acting was very well-measured. There were a series of action scenes and some of them required a slow-motion effect. His experience as a dancer came in handy as his body isolation was impeccable.
Ruvinathan who played Hanuman was amazing too. He reminded me very much of those period dramas on Channel 8 where Sun-Wu-Kong would dart and fly everywhere. Difference is, this was LIVE and he did his somersaults, turns and movements so amazingly without once faltering on his expressions and his dialogues. Dinesh Nair who played Dasa was also very impactful. Special mention to Kalyan Kumar who played a Naradar-esque character. It takes guts to rip your dhoti off three times onstage. The two supporting monkeys Sreeram and Suresh managed to maintain great comedic sense and were the perfect supporting cast.
The cast used their space so effectively, they were all very fit and agile, darting across without even the slightest hesitation on their faces. They were well-rehearsed and extremely charismatic onstage.
The story here was a simple one – but it had a proper vision, a real goal and a plot that was well thought of with little distractions. Hence it worked. Kudos to James Kumar and his cast for a job well done.
On top of everything, due credit has to be given to the senior members of Ravindran Drama Group for their constant support. Productions like Puthiya Uthiram can go into oblivion within one showing. It isn’t easy talent spotting new directors and new artistes. In fact, banking on the old sturdy stable of artistes may be a sure-win. Yet they go all out to ensure a breath of fresh air is infused yearly through initiatives such as Puthiya Uthiram. It is always a pleasure to see Art thrive and I hope RDG continues maintaining such initiatives.
One could only hope that more geniuses such as Saleem Hadi and James Kumar come forward to share their talent. (Considerable to note that both guys managed to do excellent jobs on their first tries – imagine what happens when they hone their skills).
I am truly very proud of every one of the people who stood up onstage today and took their bow together – and I hope that each of them are blessed with great successes in their pursuits of their Art.
PS: A request to the kind people in RDG. Please try to make the fonts in your brochures a tad bigger. Have been squinting in various different angles trying to read all the messages and all I have gotten is a blinding headache.