Long back, much before motion pictures monopolised the scene, theatre used to be a vivid epiphany of fireworks and fanfare. Playwrights churned out scintillating screenplays and artists basked in theatrical stardom. Be it Ningalenne Communistakki or Adukkalayil Ninnu Arangathekku, rather than being mere mass entertainers, plays raised antennas of social consciousness. But with passing time, this vibrant art form was reduced to a pitiable shadow of its past glory. And it’s in this agonisingly familiar premise that Kamal pitches his Nadan, a film that traces the history of Malayalam theatre while unravelling the life of drama artists way beyond curtain calls and greenroom hiccups. “Professional drama troupes were very strong in Kerala, always holding up a mirror to realities and pushing the audience out of their comfort zone,” says Kamal.
Nadan zooms into the travails of its title character Devadas Sargavedi, a struggling theatre artist played by Jayaram. Owner of Sargavedi Theatres, a prominent banner in the past, theatre is a legacy passed on to him by his grandfather and father. “By his time theatre was shrunk to a form of entertainment meant for temple and church festivals only.” From the hopeless present the film takes a leap backward chronicling the heydays of drama. “In the early 30s there was an artist called Ochira Velukutty who used to do female characters onstage. His plays alone had thousands of stagings. By 50s a spate of theatre troupes emerged, but their triumph continued only till the arrival of television. Their popularity plummeted further with the entry of mimicry artists,” he explains. In the film Jayaram is paired opposite Remya Nambeesan, who appears on screen as theatre actress Jyothi.
Kamal says just like Rosy, the forgotten starlet in his last film Celluloid, theatre too has many artists lost in the mists of time. “Nadan is dedicated to them all, those less known or unknown figures in the history of theatre,” he says.
Thespians making it to the 70mm is no breaking news in Mollywood. Artists with a strong theatrical background have made their graceful transit from stage to screen while only a few preferred to straddle both. “Other than the lead pair, all other actors of Nadan are basically theatre artists who started their career from stage,” says Kamal. That include KPAC Lalitha, Joy Mathew, P Balachandran and Hareesh Peradi playing key roles in the film.
Kamal adds that Nadan will be noted for Jayaram’s incredible performance if not anything else. “Jayaram is an underused actor in Malayalam. I don’t think any film has tapped his true potential so far. Though I have cast in him in nearly 15 films Nadan is our first film together that piques the performer in him in a very demanding and challenging manner,” he says. Nadan also boasts of a solid music section which has some soul-stirring compositions by Ouseppachan. “The music has been set in tune with the spirit of the film that moves back and forth in time. Then, Vijyalakshmi has sung a solo song for the film after her hit track in Celluloid.”
The film produced by K Anil Kumar under the banner of Ambalakkara Global Films, will hit screens this Friday.