CHENNAI : On March 13, 2016 the murder of Shankar at a shopping complex in Tirupur spread shock waves through the country. Assailants with knives hacked at the Dalit man and his upper-caste wife, Kausalya. While Kausalya survived, Shankar succumbed to his injuries, and the murder was l a t e r c a t e g o r i s e d a s caste-motivated. When theatre artist Koumarane Valavane heard of the murder, he was left reeling. “I always start working when something shocks me.
These things keep coming to my mind, and the only way I can deal with it is by talking to my actors about it and performing,” said the 45-year-old. The murder led to him adapting Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet into the play, Chandala, Impure, which has been nominated for four categories in the 14th edition of the Mahindra Excellence in Theatre Awards (META). With the romance between Jack and Janani as the main focus, Valavane uses the Shakespearean classic as a template to create similar characters in a similar situation, but with a realistic ending. After giving his actors a rough base script to go off on, he allowed them to interpret and depict this doomed love story as they wished. The Tanglish production, which has been performed in Puducherry, Bengaluru, and France, calls for a reformation of our societal values by using what Valavane considers to be the caste system’s ultimate weakness.
“The only thing that can kill the caste system is love. The system cannot tolerate a romance across castes which is why they take extreme measures to silence those who go against the system,” said the Puducherry-based director of Indianostrum Theatre. In his opinion, the desire of the younger generation is the fire against the rules set by the previous generation. However, Valavane feels that our view of love is warped due to the influence of cinema. The lines between love and desire are blurred due to the superficial portrayal of love on the silver screen. “We are immature when it comes to love. Real life is very different.
There is an idea of heroism associated with love — that if you love someone, you will succeed,” he said. In addition to inaccurate media, he feels that the lack of gender and sex education has led to infants in adult bodies looking for an emotion they barely understand. The director insisted that his plays are neither didactic nor educative. “The public is not a kid to be forced to receive a message,” he said sharply.
“Theatre actively offers the public the news to change a man, woman or person. When you read something, you protect yourself. But in theatre, you cannot protect yourself; you have to open yourself and release all your emotions,” he said. He wants his actors and audience to catch the threads that he puts out, and unravel the stories for themselves. “A story is already political. My decision is to display my travels. Just to speak and listen and share is a big political act, and it is pretentious for an artist to say that he has a message. I want the audience to travel as I did across the story, and see my honesty through my play,” said the artist. The week-long festival, which will be held from March 6 to March 11 at New Delhi, will display all the nominated plays before a jury and audience.