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Saturday, August 11, 2007

The Anatomy of Murder and the Killing Fields

Hola... here goes the unedited version of my Citizen Report to The Grossly Commercial Company's recent international premiere of Timeri Murari's two plays at the Metro Plus The Hindu Theatre Festival 2007:
These are days when anything indigenous is exciting. I do not know whether it is a little low-esteem thing on the part of Indians. We go gaga when someone goes celeb internationally from India. Be it Paes, Sania, Narain Karthikeyan... be it embracing a newly discovered Sunita Williams... Glad to say, I don't get excited about it, because I think we Indians are no different from others if we put our attitude on our sleeve and work. But on the night of 7th August 2007, at the Metro Plus Hindu Theatre Festival, I WAS really excited for once. The reason... above all the brand building exercise of tall and hackeneyed names of luminary theatre personalities adorning the stage and groups that have become more the "got to be there" to add to the tradition and box-office assurance, there was something genuine to celebrate.

The Fest had its First. A Chennai playwright premiered at a Chennai Theatre Festival... aptly so in the Chennai Chapter. I think, the Chennai Chapter is a good idea. For those people grousing about Chennai Chapter in a condescending way, I guess over the last three years, the quality dished out from visitors has left often times a lot to be desired and it is to the credit of Chennai groups, they have acquitted much better. And last night The Grossly Commercial Theatre Company's international premiere of our own Timeri Murari's double bill on the anatomy of murder and killing and assassins' minds was something Chennai ought to be proud of.

The first play on the attempt to assassinate Salman Rushdie by two naive villagers desperate to make the big bucks was a very poignant and telling statement on the lure of the filthy lucre. It is many things at many layers. These two bumpkins are no different at one level from the agrarian exodus to the cities to get better living. At another level it is a study of a contaminated human mind that is very Faustian in the hands of the lady who is their Mephisto, luring them to sell their souls to a cause they don't even comprehend or believe in . But in the end it is a very BoBo-GoGo Becketian predicament, having waited for their own Godot, as they realise the futility of it all. The idea was beautiful. Mr. Murari had chosen his concept well. The only problem about the script was... like so many of Indian scripts, in the execution the shadow falls. The amount of platitudes and cliched expressions creeping in in those moments when the playwright starts getting into the psychological and philosophical territories detracted from the theatrical illusion we were getting mesmerised into. The moments of theorising were agonising to say the least. Could have probably avoided. But knowing it is a first performance script and not yet published, there still is time to rework to make it a finer piece of theatre to have emerged from Chennai yet.

The second play... well, was nothing to write home about in terms of scripting. But the narrative flow was neater and the dialogues were very Fugardian. It really reminded me of the two convicts in The Island by Athol Fugard. Except these are an old assassin and a young and proud killer. Ishwar was simply fantastic, to put it mildly. "The Killing Time" was and will remain an example of what the power of theatre is! If you put two right actors who are capable of bringing out a good chemistry and pit their pride and acting talents against each other... it is a director's coup and it is to the credit of director Deesh Mariwala that this play worked from page to stage. His minimal style of theatre making complemented an evening that would have been spoilt with sets and sound for distraction. Again, as regards the script, though it was taut in its narrative structure and inventive in its cyclical style, I must say I left the hall wondering like several others whom I heard discussing, was it the acting that won the day for the playwright? In any case, last night Chennai Theatre was the winner and richer for that experience. If this is the sign of things to come, forget the Ghosts of Christmas Past and let's look forward to the other two plays in the Chennai Chapter that has already shown a remarkable departure from the pitiful spate of comedies where wannabes hang about to be seen. Here is a Chapter that is Theatre with a T, despite its many teething shortcomings, that I hope gets sorted as it grows!

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