Bard’s tragic tale gets a Tamil twist

The rehearsal process began with a script reading, followed by feedback from the artists.
A still from the play
A still from the play

“But I will wear my heart upon my sleeve

For daws to peck at: I am not what I am.”

-William Shakespeare, Othello

Imagine Shakespeare’s Othello, but in Tamil. Picture the Moorish general’s tragic tale unfolding against the vibrant backdrop of South Indian culture, infused with the rhythmic beats of traditional music. Envision a cross-cultural adaptation that not only breathes new life into a classic but also offers audiences a fresh, unique experience. Theatre Genie’s debut production, Idha Yen Modhallaye Sollala, brings exactly this experience, entwined with a peculiar comedic twist.

An ensemble of artists from various avenues, including Therukoothu performers (Tamil street theatre), artists from Koothu-P-Pattarai (a prominent Tamil theatre group), clowning artists, and singers, came together to form Theatre Genie. Idha Yen Modhallaye Sollala, follows the story of Othello, a Moorish general in the Venetian army, who secretly marries Desdemona, the daughter of a Venetian nobleman. Consumed by jealousy and manipulated by his deceitful ensign, Iago, Othello believes that Desdemona has been unfaithful. The antagonist, Iago’s cunning plots and lies, drive Othello to a tragic end, closing the curtains on the play.

This ambitious play is the brainchild of the writer and director, Girish Kumar. Girish drew inspiration from Broadway’s longest-running play, The Play That Goes Wrong. Laced with drama, humour and music, the play is a feast for the senses. The chemistry between actors and singers is palpable, both onstage and offstage. “Watching each other perform helped the team look at the play from different perspectives. Everyone shared their ideas and bounced off each other’s ideas, and ultimately, it all worked out beautifully,” remarks Nivedita, a cast member. Girish adds, “Our ensemble is like a family. Throughout the production, we’ve all helped and cared for each other, which is part of why the chemistry shines onstage.”

Girish Kumar, writer-director
Girish Kumar, writer-director

Interestingly, the stage is ingeniously divided into two sections — Onstage and Backstage — allowing the audience to witness the chaos that occurs behind the scenes. “It’s an attempt to show what actually goes on backstage. In every production, there will be mishaps, and we wanted to show that to the audience,” says Nivedita. The portrayal of both onstage and backstage elements adds complexity to the play, giving audiences a glimpse into a new world.

However, with such creativity come challenges. Creating the illusion of genuine mistakes on stage posed a significant challenge for the team. “We’re making a mistake intentionally, but we want it to come across as a genuine mistake. We’re working with trained theatre artists; everyone always tries to play their part perfectly. So, intentionally making mistakes has been a big challenge in bringing this play to life. It’s been a process of unlearning and re-learning,” shares Girish.

Drafting the script required Girish to visualise numerous elements, a process that took two months to bring to life. The rehearsal process began with a script reading, followed by feedback from the artists. Separate rehearsals were held for singers and actors, who then collaborated in the final weeks of rehearsals.

Theatre Genie pushes the boundaries of traditional theatre by experimenting with puppetry in the play, an unusual element in a Shakespeare adaptation. Initially overwhelmed by doubt, Girish jokes, “The vision for the play when I first started writing the script was that I might as well stop with it right now.” However, the team’s encouragement helped bring his vision to life.

“Our main intent is entertainment. There is something for everyone in this play, from children to elders; all age groups can enjoy the production,” expresses Nivedita. The play is purely for the audience and is intended to bring a night of laughter, creativity, and fun to its viewers. Girish’s central vision as a theatre artist and director is to attract more people to the art form. He notes the impact of OTT platforms on live performances and expresses a desire to revive the rich history of theatre, drama, and the arts in India. “We’d like to revive what is lost and, in the process, make it more contemporary and relatable for people,” says Nivedita.

Idha Yen Modhallaye Sollala promises a magical experience this weekend, blending humour, drama, and a glimpse into the backstage world of theatre. With a strong ensemble and a visionary director, the production aims to captivate audiences and rejuvenate the spirit of live theatre.

The play will be performed at Medai The Stage, Alwarpet, on June 15 (5 pm and 7.30 pm) and June 16 (6.30 pm)

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The New Indian Express