What ails Chennai Theatre?

This post is about Theatre as in Drama and not movie halls. Today’s The Hindu Metroplus carried a conversation between two towering personalities of Tamil Theater, Naa Muthusamy (of Koothu – p – Pattarai fame) and Indira Parthasarathy (novelist and playwright). It was an interesting article. Especially towards the end of the conversation was this discussion.

Parthasarathi:.. But tell me, why are there no new entrants into serious theatre in Tamil Nadu?

Muthuswami: No audience.

Parthasarathi: In Delhi, my plays were put up by a regular theatre group. The audiences were the same people who came to see other plays. My play was not deemed `different’ or experimental.

Muthuswami: Narada Gana Sabha tried to showcase serious matinees and popular evening shows.

Parthasarathi: I was invited to watch my play. Huge hall. Eight spectators. I was lonely. Scared. At the end a man told me, `Don’t go, the real play will start now.’ I wonder if we are driving people away from our plays by stamping them as highbrow, parallel theatre.

Parthasarathi: Theatre is a social institution, It must communicate.

Muthuswami: But you must admit there is a difference between our kind of theatre and popular theatre. Today, Tamil theatre has cinema for its model.

Parthasarathi: California Sangam or Chinglepet Manram, it’s all habituated to empty wordplay and puerile humour. I feel concerned.
Muthuswami: The conviction that theatre is part of life has not taken hold here.

Parthasarathi: You’re saying that people must identify themselves with the theatre. How?

Muthuswami: We must go on doing theatre. Good theatre. Sincerely. To the best of our ability.

They do have a point. If you read bound volumes of 1970s magazines, there will be reviews of the plays held in Madras that week. Plays as in serious plays – not the S.Ve. Sekar / Crazy Mohan / Y.Gee. Mahendra wordplay stuff. The big names in movies too acted in plays – Nagesh comes immediately to mind. But the rot seemed to have set in 1980s. Drama as entertainment lost its value. One of the reasons might be the sabhas were all located in Central Madras, but the audience had moved to suburbs like Velacherry, Nanganallur, Anna Nagar, etc.

English Theater in Chennai has a niche audience and they seem to be happy with that. Going to English Plays is sort of a in thing and shows you to be hep, so they are surviving. Tamil theater lacks audience to motivate the artists. Earlier, theater was the route to movies, but that too is no longer the case now.

I have seen a video recording of Koothu – p – Pattarai’s play “Seethai Mark Seeyakkai Thool” (based on a short story by Sundara Ramasamy). It was an eye opener on what Tamil plays could be. But is there any way of reviving the interest of audience in Tamil Theater?

1 Comment so far

  1. Til (unregistered) on July 26th, 2006 @ 11:15 pm

    so you are posting a lot more here these days

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