Thursday, 23 April 2009
KB AFTER 40 YEARS
It was the talk of the town – a new play by K. Balachandar, after a gap of more than 40 years. And I was quite excited at the prospect of attending it. After all, I have been a faithful follower of his movies from the late 1960s.
In the intervening gap of those 40 years, Balachandar had given up his job in the Accountant General’s office and graduated from being a part time dramatist, penning his delightful plays, to cinema direction, and later when television appeared to making serials. Balachandar’s earliest pictures were productions of his plays like ‘Server Sundaram’ (though this was directed by Krishnan Panju), ‘Navagraham’ and ‘Major Chandrakant’.
In the 60s and 70s, we used to look forward to every K. Balachandar (KB) movie – and were never let down. All that we expected from him would be there - a good story, excellent characterisation, suspense and liberal doses of humour. With Nagesh in the cast, there was no dearth of that.
They made a sound team, Nagesh and Balachandar.
And so at the first show of the play ‘Pournami’, (a first for us, too!) which KB had penned and directed after 40 years, it was most touching to see, after the lights dimmed, a picture of Nagesh highlighted before the curtain went up, and the signature dialogue “Maadhu Vandhirukken” from ‘Edhirneechal’. It was followed by KB’s voice in the background chiding Nagesh for going away, leaving him behind. A poignant moment, and it seemed fitting when KB dedicated the play to him.
KB also mentioned the partners of Kalakendra, who had produced all his earlier pictures.
It was good to hear him talk about his early days, and his decision to come back to his first love the stage. “I am reborn again.”, he said.
‘Pournami’ is a topical story. It narrates the upheaval created in a family when a member is arrested by Pakistan authorities as a spy, when he goes there on work, and is held in exchange for the release of a terrorist. Naturally, there is a lot of scope for political pontifications – which I found boring - and some punch lines which raised some laughs. Pournami is the wife of the abducted Navneet, (who a la the Irumal thatha of ‘Ethirneechal’, never appears on stage). How, with the help of a relative who is a retired major in the army and is called - guess what? Major Chandrakant - she works to bring about his release forms the story. Shades of the movie 'Roja' here.
The performances were good - they would be, with KB at the helm. When his old production office had borrowed our ground floor premises for the shooting of one of his movies in the early 70s, we were able to see how he extracted perfect performances from his actors (including Rajnikant, then a newcomer).
Renuka as Pournami was good and looked pretty, but somehow she was not able to cast off the mantle of Renuka totally. Fathima Babu of news reading fame, on the other hand, gave a terrific laughter-generating performance as the ‘almost got Padmasri’ lady, who is a bit of a nosy parker too. As her to-be-daughter-in-law, Kavya sends her parents (and some of us, too) up the wall with her ear constantly glued to the cell phone, when her fingers are not texting/smsing. This is a nice dig at today’s youngsters and their dependence on the mobile phone for survival. Kavya’s constant prostrating in front of Fathima to get into her good books also raised a few laughs.
The characters and situations create the humour, and the strong story keeps the play from being a mere hook on which to suspend jokes.
The actor playing Navneet’s brother*, and Poovilangu Mohan as Chandrakant also impressed, though the latter’s ‘Maon hoon na’ got on my nerves after a while.
The story moved on a single set, very pleasing to the eye, and the lighting effects were well handled, especially in the scene where Navneet is allowed to speak to his wife from jail. I wondered why Renuka did not change her costume more often, while the others did, to show the movement of time.
The play was staged under the aegis of Kartik Fine Arts, one of the leading Sabhas in Chennai, at Narada Gana Sabha Hall. And the 1500 capacity hall was full. I looked around and found no one under 30! The sabha regulars were the usual middle-aged and retired group, and ticket holders seemed to belong to that group, too. Not surprising, since KB is himself over 70, and his fans, would be in the same age group.
I was not in Chennai when his earlier plays were staged under the banner of Ragini Recreations, but seen the movies that developed from them like ‘Major Chandrakant’ and ‘Edirneechal’ - so it was good to see KB ‘live’
I went with a lot of expectations, and enjoyed myself.
But I learnt something too - you can never turn the clock back.
*I have since learnt that the actor Karthik is part of Evam, a group that has made a name for itself in producing and staging plays in English in the city.
P. S. The photos did not turn out very well, and I am disappointed a bit.