CHENNAI: Anyone who has read Vaikom Muhammad Basheer’s stories, will recall his down-to-earth style of narration, striking humour and unique play on language. What happens when those words translate on stage? Perch, a Chennai-based theatre group, brings back the Basheerian mirth on stage by fusing two of his short in a single play, Moonshine and Skytoffee, which explores love in unlikely circumstances. Celebrating their 10th year, director Rajiv Krishnan talks to CE, about reviving the play that first premiered in 2004, relevance of the stories in this age and more…
“The play Moonshine and Skytoffee, predates Perch itself,” says Rajiv. Perch was formed officially in 2008, but, even before that, the artists who are part of the collective today, had staged the play in 2004. “It was very popular even then and incidentally, it was at Alliance Francaise of Madras too!” recalls Rajiv.
The play was performed yet again in 2008 to celebrate Basheer’s centenary year. “We wanted to do something big in his memory and we organised a three-week long fest in January 2008. It was the first official event for Perch, where we dramatised seven short stories of the writer along with Moonshine….” he shares.
The performance collective will bring Basheer's The Card-sharpers Daughter (Mucheettukalikkaarantaey Makal) and The Love Letter (Premalekhanam) to life on stage — two stories written in 1951 and 1943 respectively, but both of which are way ahead of their time. “Both these stories deal with love. The path to love is never a straight line and Basheer weaves these complexities interestingly in his stories,” he shares.
Calling Basheer a progressive writer, Rajiv gushes about the women characters in his stories. “They are all very strong female characters,” he says mentioning Saramma, the female lead in ‘The Love Letter’. “The course of the love affair between Saramma and Kesavan Nayar, will seem one-sided at first. But the unexpected twists and turns, sharp social commentary and the way Saramma portrays love makes it intriguing,” he says.
Moonshine and Skytoffee is Perch’s oldest play, and was last performed in 2010 to packed houses in Chennai, Calicut, Bangalore and Mumbai. “Celebrating our 10th year, what more would be befitting than our first play?” smiles Rajiv, who’s thrilled about having the same cast since 2004, except for one new addition. “It’s surreal to have the same people in the play again. But, yes, we have made a few changes — making it crisper, tighter and seamless,” he explains.
Talking about the audiences who have seen all versions of the play since its stage debut, Rajiv opines that he’s excited to show Chennaiites the latest avatar. “We want to see how the old audience reacts to the changes and also the reactions of those who haven’t seen the play before. It’s going to be interesting!” he declares.
The collective will be completing 50 shows of the play with this run and Rajiv says that they are trying to break out of the old pattern. “It’s easy for the artists to go back and perform the characters like they did seven years back, but to come up with new interpretations is a challenge and we hope it will all pay off,” he adds.
Perch will be staging Moonshine and Skytoffee at Alliance Francaise, Chennai from June 16 to 18, from 7pm onwards. For details, call: 28279803
master of words
Basheer started writing short stories in 1937. Childhood Friend (Balyakalasakhi, 1944), a simple story of love, friendship and tragedy, earned him iconic status, and was followed by Me Granddad ‘ad An Elephant (Ntuppuppakkoraanentarnnu, 1951), the English translation of which, by R.E. Asher of Edinburgh University, won worldwide acclaim.
Plays by perch
- … And Sunshine Follows The Rain adapted from The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams’
- Sangathi Arinhya! (have you heard!) created from the short stories of the Malayalam writer Vaikom Muhammad Basheer
- Miss Meena inspired by The Visit by Friedrich Durrenmatt
- Kira Kozhambu created from Folktales of Tamilnadu by Ki. Rajanarayanan’
- Jujubee, a play for children
- Vyabaramayanam, a play on ideas in Tamil
- How to Skin a Giraffe, inspired by Leonce and Lena by Georg Buchner
- Cheruvannur Diaries–Typewriter Tales and Monkey and the Mobile