It was a lovely evening to walk down to Ranga Shankara to see my first ‘serious’ play since my return to the city after a long absence….and I was not disappointed.
“Ms.Meena”, on at Ranga Shankara from July 28 to August 1, is a joint effort between the members of Perch, a Chennai-based theatre group, and rafiki, a Bangalore group.
Sachin Gurjale and Sunitha of rafiki had watched two productions of Perch – Sangathi Arinhya and Moonshine and Skytoffee, also staged at Ranga Shankara, and were struck by it.So, last year, when rafiki began exploring the possibility of inviting a guest director, they contacted Rajiv Krishnan of Perch. Initial conversation soon led to a collaboration plan, and resulted in Ms Meena, with Krishnan directing it.
This has been the first collaboration between the two groups, and the show on July 28th was the first time the play was being staged. Rehearsals were carried on in Chennai, over a period of 42 days, prior to the opening.
Regarding the theatre venue, I asked both Krishnan and Anish Victor, one of the founders of rafiki whether, apart from the usual considerations (affordability, smaller, more intimate theatre space), there were any other factors in choosing Ranga Shankara. Anish responded, “The audience aspect is very important. The audience base in Ranga Shankara has been steadily growing. Perch and rafiki have performed in Ranga Shankara before and its productions have been well received. It made sense for us to build on that audience base.” Krishnan, too, feels similarly; Ranga Shankara, he feels, has given rise to a “resurgence in theatre-watching culture”…and this makes for a more discerning audience.
Krishnan says that Perch has staged four plays, including “Ms. Meena”, and future plans include a kind of storytelling performance in Tamil, Hindi and English, titled “Keera Kozhambu” (the “Keera” being a pun on the initials of the writer, Kee Rajanarayanan.)
With all this background, I went to watch “Ms. Meena” with a fair amount of expectation…and trepidation. What if the attempt at serious theatre fell flat on its face (which often happens, alas!)? rafiki has been one of my favourite theatre groups in Bangalore…would they live up to what I expected of them?
I need not have worried. Perch and rafiki took the inspiration of the dark comedy by the author Friedrich Duerrenmatt, “The Visit” and converted it with elements of Koothu (street theatre), spoof on movies and movie-making, excellent music, and an incredibly creative use of props, into an excellent play where I never noticed where the duration (1 hour and 23 min) went!
In “Ms. Meena”, the chief protagonist is a superstar of the movie world, visiting her home town after two decades. Tamil was frequently used, including the verses of a few very witty and well-sung songs, but other languages, such as Kannada and Hindi, were used too, and at no point was langauage a barrier to the audience (which was, rather a sparse one on the opening night, but a very encouraging one.)
I have watched both Perch and rafiki productions before, so the fact that the acting and the stagecraft were of high order was not a surprise.
The burning desire of the film star to be revenged on the village in general, and on her old lover (who jilted her when she was carrying his child) in particular, came through with remarkable acidity, in the script written beautifully by Rashmi Ruth Devadasan. From the pose-for-the-camera-sweetness and underlying bitterness, Karuna Amarnath elicited it all on stage.
The comedic timing was very well executed, and the serious emotions underlying it were brought out well, too. Every member of the cast carried his/her weight effortlessly.
I was also impressed with the way Kaveri Lalchand evoked rural costumes with minimal additions such as an ethnic towel to represent a village-style saree, or a length of red fabric representing a garland…and just the wearing of dark glasses bespoke the way the whole village had “gone over” to the superstar’s camp, and were hostile to her old lover.
Apart from the excellent singing (and “oral percussion” kept up by some members of the cast) and superb timing, I must once again mention the very creative use of the props. Both lighting and props were managed by Kalpana Balaji and John V. Mathew. The frame of a table, became in turn, the window of a train, and a TV…a length of bubble packing became a waterfall and a stream… a bicycle pump became a microphone…a broom and a churner became a boom microphone, and a bucket on a clothes frame became a camera or a cow….to see how all this happened, you have to watch the play!
All in all, a play that I strongly recommend to the theatre going public of Bangalore…it’s on until August 1st, so please do go and watch a very good production!
I have only one request of the cast and crew: rafiki always had an audience-interaction session after the play, and would introduce the cast and crew…why don’t you keep that tradition? I did find out later who the cast and crew members were, but would have liked to cheer them on stage too.
Also if your budget permits, do distribute pamphlets where interested members of the audience can give their email ids and also continue the dialogue with the theatre group beyond the staging of the play. This can be useful to build up an audience base and get valuable feedback.