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25-Sep-2013

Bangalore Mirror | The Lure of Cinema

Nirmala Ravindran

The Visit by Swiss playwright Friedrich Durrenmatt has all the elements considered mandatory for a potboiler. Celebrations, villains, former lovers, a rags- to- riches story, revenge and retribution, lust for money and power — you name it and the play has it. Except that the good guy doesn’t win at the end. In fact there is no good guy — just a lot of helpless good people with shades of grey. So grey that it’s difficult to tell the good from the bad. Durrenmatt, in his lifetime, emphasised that The Visit was written as a comedy, but thanks to the underlying darkness and pathos, it has come to be regarded as one of the best known tragicomedies in contemporary theatre.

Adapted by Perch, a performance collective in Chennai, in association with Bangalore-based theatre group Rafiki, The Visit underwent several changes in its setting, characters and staging to turn the small town of Gullen into a village in Tamil Nadu called Peechampuram and the protagonist Claire into an iconic film star — Miss Meena. [sic.]

Miss Meena [sic.] (the play not the character) tells the story of a woman who was shunned by the villagers of Peechampuram when she claimed to be pregnant with the child of her lover Ravi. She leaves the village in despair and that’s the last the villagers hear of her till she resurfaces as a big film star Miss Meena, who returns to the village after two decades to make her last film, as well as save he rnative village from poverty and ruin. The villagers hail her arrival and count on her as their saviour; only to be shocked at the price she demands in return. The story tells the snowballing changes in the attitude of the villagers after the arrival of Miss Meena.

While the story, plot and the structure of Miss Meena is faithful to the original, it is in the telling and the setting that transforms this rendition into a completely new tale. In a country that makes nearly 1,000 films every year in more than 10 languages, the power of a movie star can only be rivalled (if at all) by a cricketer. This is the power that director Rajiv Krishnan and his team rely on to tell the story of Miss Meena, the powerhouse prodigal who has now returned for her pound of flesh. The play is a tribute to the magic of the movies as Miss Meena (formerly Asha) returns to her village as a glamorous film star. Her magical entry on stage heralds sets the tone for the rest of the play.

Songs and dance have become an integral part of the vocabulary of Rajiv’s plays and the world that he creates on stage; Miss Meenagoes one step further in sometimes parodying and sometimes celebrating as nostalgia the songs and dance that have become a part of our world thanks to cinema. The innocuous and absurd lyrics, the laugh-out-loud audition scenes, the colourful costumes, the grandeur, the paparazzi that follows the stars around, and the manipulative spell exercised by the stars are all vividly portrayed on stage by a bunch of superb actors who sing, dance, act and handle props with expertise. Karuna Amarnath as Miss Meena is grand, haughty, manipulative and conceited — the perfect stereotype of an ageing star. She is supported on stage by Bangalore’s Anish Victor, Sachin Gurjale, Ashiqa Salvan, Anita Santanam and Ravindra Vijay and their counterparts from Chennai Karuna Amarnath, Iswar Srikumar, Anushka Meenakshi and Anandswamy.

Read as it appeared in Bangalore Mirror here.

Jagriti

Jagriti is a Performance Arts space dedicated to Theatre, Music, Dance and Comedy. Founded in 2011 by Arundhati and Jagdish Raja, the space has hosted several productions from India and around the world. A 200-seat theatre, built around a full-thrust stage, it is fully equipped to cater to both artistes and audience. The main stage is designed for intimate performances, with adjoining spaces for informal lectures and gatherings, and an attached restaurant. Jagriti is owned and operated by the not-for-profit ART Foundation, a registered charitable trust.

The Rooftop - above the main auditorium is an open-to-sky space with a staging area that can accommodate about 50 people. A raised and walled off platform can work as a perfect area for puppet theatre. The Rooftop has a restroom and a pantry. 

The Terrace - alongside the auditorium, the Terrace can accommodate about 20 people as an informal gathering area.

Lumbini - extending out from the foyer, Lumbini has a stage and an open-to-sky terraced space for about 80 people.