There is no water in Athipatti village and all the villagers are leaving one after the other. Will the combined efforts of the villagers to bring water to their village succeed?
At its heart, ‘Water’, staged by the Madras Players, is a simple story. Translated from Komal Swaminathan’s classic Thanneer Thanneer by S Shankar, the script packs the same punch as it did three decades ago when it was first staged and later adapted into a National Award winning movie by K Balachander.
Vellaisamy seeks asylum in a dry, waterless Athipatti, after being on the run from nameless forces. He promises to bring water from a place 14 miles away everyday in return for a place to stay. The village school teacher Vaithilingam is played to perfection by P C Ramakrishna, who gets to the bottom of Vellaisamy’s whereabouts and lets him stay at his house.
During the course of the story, it is revealed that Vellasamy is actually Velladurai, who murdered his corrupt landlord for making him work as a bonded labourer and coveting his wife. The villagers initially oppose his stay, but later take an oath not to reveal his identity if the police came searching for him.
Days go by placidly until Velusamy Naicker from the town comes in demanding all the Naicker votes for the Naicker candidate in the upcoming elections. When the villagers oppose him, he vows retribution. As a result, Vellaisamy is stopped from drawing water and the villagers are forced to adopt other means to obtain it.
The villagers fight strongly set social mindsets, political oppression and apathy, in their efforts to get basic drinking water. They decide to boycott the local elections as a means to get attention, but fail. They try to cut a canal to divert the water to their village but are stopped by government officials. Obstacles pile up and the villagers have no other choice but to leave the place one by one.
Ironically, Vellaisamy dies in the forest without water, while being pursued by police officials.
The strong, well-etched characters make the serious subject work. The tobacco-chewing priest, who wants to sacrifice a goat to the goddess for rain; the young, brash Govalu, who rejoices in standing up to the ones in power; a strong but silent Sevanthi, who leaves her police officer husband for the safety of Vellaisamy, and the old, rheumatic Kandhaiyan, who pushes the villagers along to make decisions that count, particularly stand out.
P C Ramakrishna’s direction adds to the script, while the rustic sets and lights designed by Victor Paulraj perfectly reflect the setting of the play.