THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: For years, stories of privileged landlords and the sufferings of the oppressed have been doing the rounds. It had turned into a theme for movies and plays several times. ‘Molagapodi’ too plods the same path, bringing on stage the discriminations of caste, gender and class through the authoritative landlady, Gangamma.
Based on a short story written by Dalit writer Baama, the play is set against the backdrop of a countryside in Tamil Nadu.
The plot revolves around the plight of a set of women from the lower caste who work under Gangamma. The draconian rules of Gangamma cause hatred among the workers.
In the beginning of the play, the chorus describes the lifestyle of Gangamma, her palatial house and personal life. She is accompanied by a male servant who is always at her beck and call. The way she treats him too shows the grandiose of her power.
The title of the play ‘Molagapodi’ is derived from her nick name. The workers began teasing her with the name after the landlady sprinkled chilly powder on the eyes of Pachaiamma.
Trivial matters like cutting grass and plucking cotton are cited to be reasons for reprimanding Pachaiamma. Hailing from Dalit quarters, she is the rebellious among the group.
Later we see ‘Molagapodi’ running in panic across the length and breadth of the stage frightened of the agitated women labourers following her. The much enraged landlady seeks the aid of policemen to keep the women in check.
The play comes to an end with the women urinating in front of the cops who seek a cash compensation for their release.
It can be interpreted as their response to a corrupted law enforcement system and also an out-pouring of their suppressed anger.
The background music of the play stands out for its expressive rhythms. All through the play, we see the characters revel in the instrumental folk music played in the background. The entry of the protagonist, Pachaiamma, is the best example for this.
She taps her feet in full vigour in accordance to the music in the backdrop. She also whirls the long bamboo stick in her hand in different ways as if reminiscing some martial art while performing a ‘stick dance’.
Except the rhythm of the music, the play appears to have no exceptional elements to captivate the audience either through dialogues, costumes or stage settings.
There are, however, occasional glimpses of efforts at innovation like the scene where cops are represented by actors dressed in ordinary clothes and wearing the official cap. Maybe because they are acting like puppets in the hands of ‘Molagapodi.’
From beginning to end, the play maintains a rustic flavour.
The Chennai-based Kattiyakkari theatre, run by Sreejith Sundaram, involves a broad spectrum of artists, including transgenders and sex workers.
The play was performed at the Karthika Thirunal Theatre the other day as part of the reach-out festival of the fourth International Theatre Festival of Kerala.