Friday, September 10, 2010

Panjarada Shale, a Review: In The Hindu

I reviewed a play for The Hindu. Read it here or see below.


I may not look like you. Neither may I speak the way you do, or dress as well, or have the aesthetic sense to admire that painting on the wall the way you can. Does that make me less cultured? Do I become inferior in your sensibilities? More power than what I wield does not make you also morally, culturally superior, does it?

These are old questions: they have been asked across sensibilities, fed culture wars and fuelled the urge to conquer and subjugate. The old questions were asked again, through B.V. Karanth's play “Panjarada Shale”, itself based on Rabindranath Tagore's “The Parrot's Training”. Performed by children of middle school of TVS School, Tumkur, the play explored the violence and discord that a conventional education system causes in an individual.

In a brilliant staging by students trained under Pralayan from Chennai Kalai Kuzhu, made more enjoyable by lovely lighting, the play told the story of a parrot that is captured by a king who decides that all the bird can do is sing and fly, and therefore, its ignorant mind is to be educated and cultured. What follows is an attempt to teach by rote mathematics, the languages and other subjects that will make the parrot a learned and cultured individual.

Stifled by conventions, the parrot, in a poignant scene, looks at the other birds that are flying by and wishes to join them. The cage is golden, but without the sounds and smells of the trees, the bird loses its ability to fly and sing. The king decides it is time the parrot returned to the forest and spread her new found knowledge to the rest of the birds. The cage is opened, but the parrot only manages to crash to the ground. Without wings, without freedom, she is already dead.

In the second part of the production that culminated after a month-long theatre workshop at the school, the students of high school staged “Gramaayana”, a touching portrayal of life in a village. The students wrote the script, made music and the props. Quite importantly, they got the village accent right, right down to the rotund drunkard husband and the rather lecherous village moneylender.

Fast-paced folk music and a synergy that was more than quite professional underlay the many problems of daily wage labourers in a village. Landlords cultivate cash crops more than food crops, deepening the food crisis. The NREGA scheme is good, but payment is made once in 15 days. For the daily wage worker, with daily expenses and no other means of income, this is catastrophic. The PDS system is manned by a corrupt man who hoards rice and oil to sell at a profit. The moneylender lends Rs. 1000 at the beginning of the day and earns an interest of Rs. 100 on it by the evening. Land is acquired by the governments for development projects that do nothing for the villagers except to snatch away their work from them.

This, to the villagers, is democracy. Some community scenes, where the villagers are working, where they meet the village headman, dragged a little, but the insights into rural life that the kids revealed in the process was rather impressive. Folk culture was given the stage too, with dollu-kunitha and a song of the night usually sung in villages in the Deepavali season.

Towards the end, you could not help raising a parallel with Anusha Rizvi's “Peepli Live”, in scenes that show villagers migrating to cauldrons that form cities. They move towards boards that announce ‘Men are at work' and ‘Work is in progress'.

Be it issues like farmer suicides or land acquisition or finer details like the twang in their rural accents, the children's mighty impressive performance showed empathy for the villages and its people as is not detailed otherwise.

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