The silver jubilee drama troupe

Ahead of their silver jubilee, Dummies Drama writer Sreevathson looks back at the struggles and successes of the theatre troup

Published: 07th September 2022 03:55 AM  |   Last Updated: 07th September 2022 03:55 AM   |  A+A-

A scene from the play Athithi (2007).

Express News Service

CHENNAI:  The year was 1998, when three chartered accountants in their late 20s — R Sreevathson, Giridharan and Krishnamoorthy — launched Dummies Drama in a bid to revive the then lagging Tamil-language theatre scene, with their first production, (Wo)Men’s Rea. Fast forward to 2022, and the troupe is lining up programmes for its silver jubilee year. Their latest production, a romantic comedy titled Veenaiyadi Nee Enakku, opened to a rapturous reception. “We had a full house for all three shows, it’s a good start to our 25th year,” a buoyant Sreevathson said over the phone.

Sreevathson grew up watching plays of figures like Cho Ramaswamy and RS Manohar in the 70s and 80s, when Tamil theatre was at its peak. “I would say this was the golden age for Tamil drama. My father took me to more plays than movies, and I grew up watching Cho’s plays. I never met him, but he became a sort of mentor to me. The way he brought in twists and turns in the plot was a big influence on me,” recalls Sreevathson. By the time he made his entry into the scene, Tamil drama was at a rather low ebb. “In fact it was at its lowest when we decided to launch Dummies Drama,” he added.

Unlikely inspiration

But how did the name Dummies Drama come about? “The late 90s was a period when computers were increasingly becoming a part of homes, and we wanted a name that reflected this. I suggested the name ‘floppy’ after the floppy disks that were in vogue at the time, but the others weren’t convinced.

Eventually, the For Dummies series of books gave us the name,” Sreevathson explained. The name had another meaning to it: a dummy as standing in for a person, and since actors essentially represent people other than themselves, the name stuck. It was decided that Sreevathson would write and direct the plays, Giridharan would compose the music, and Krishnamoorthy would design sets. But work took Krishnamoorthy outside Chennai, and they were later joined by Sridhar, who has since stayed.

At the beginning, all three were complete novices when it came to stagecraft and had to learn on the go. Lighting, he believes, is crucial to the appearance of a play; one could elevate or ruin a play depending on how it is lit.

Though their initial productions were moderately successful, it was with Vinodaya Chhitham (2004) that Dummies Drama struck gold. “It was received with such acclaim that we’ve staged it 150 times and continue to. It inspired Samuthirakani to make a movie adaptation in 2021, released through OTT, and was received with the same acclaim,” Sreevathson adds. Another production that won several laurels for the troupe was Athithi in 2007, which again was performed 150 times.

Multiple genres
In the two decades since Dummies Drama was launched, they’ve staged over a thousand performances of the over 40 scripts Sreevathson has penned, and they’ve dabbled in every genre possible. If (Wo)Mens Rea was a comedy, Hanuman, with its plot centred on ISRO, could be categorised as science fiction, and Prathibimbam was a political thriller. And then there were biographical plays like Dharaniyin Perumai, based on the life of Nani Palkhiwala.

“I usually focus on what’s happening around us and try to convey it through my script. Audiences find a play more relatable when it depicts a world that is familiar to them, and this is what I have attempted in all my plays,” says Sreevathson. But is there a favourite? Tough question, he replies. “There’s Vinodaya Chitham, which did really well, there’s Athithi, Hanuman and Arthanari. Some even remarked that Veenaiyadi was the best play of mine so far, but if you ask me, every play I’ve written is dear to me.”

Sreevathson balances his passion for the stage with his career as a chartered accountant, besides holding classes for younger CA aspirants. The only mantra to multitasking, he mentions, is waking up early, so that one has a long day ahead. He explains, “I wake up at 4.30-5.00 am, start classes at 6.00 am, and by 9.00 am I’m in office for my work. As much as I can, I try to get things done on time. By 4.30-5.00 pm, I’m free from work and I’m free to devote the remainder of the day to family and theatre work.”

As Dummies Drama enters its 25th year, Sreevathson is focused more on magic. “Everybody’s been through a rather tough two years because of the pandemic, some even losing people close to them, so I feel my role should be to lighten people’s moods. Veenaiyadi was a romantic comedy, and I have plans of producing a full-length musical, with production standards that can stand on par with Broadway, New York. But it will take time,” he adds.

150 times
Athithi (2007) and Vinodaya Chhitham (2004) were two successful plays by the group, performed 150 times.


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