Knockout Drama: A Boxing-theatre Performance by Aliyar Ali Adapting Beckett in Our Context

Ijaz Ahmed as the young boxer in Aliyar Ali play knockout premiered at Palakad on 8 Jan 2022

Theatre lovers who came to Palakad from all over Kerala were literally knocked down. One of the rare boxing-based dramatic performance in India; Knockout written and directed by the young theatre person Aliyar Ali, was premiered on 8 January 2022 at Palakad. Aliyar Ali comes from a diverse range of academic higher education and production experiences in contemporary theatre and performance from School of Drama Trichur, National School of Drama New Delhi, Royal Academy of Dramatic Art London and many other international performance productions.

Dasan Kongad and Ijaz Ahmed in Aliyar Ali play Knockout at Palakad on 8 Jan 2022.

              Broadly based on and part of a transcultural adaptation of Samuel Beckett’s 1958 absurdist one-act play Krapp’s Last Tape; Aliyar’s Knockout presented the inner struggles of an old boxer and thereby every actor or performer on stage or the world of life at large with esoteric video art, brilliant audiovisual effects and techno simulations including the mysterious air-dropping and spatial interventions of a drone. The physical theatre or sports theatre becomes metaphorical in performance in our context as Prof Deepan Sivaraman, Dean, Ambedkar University New Delhi has observed in his FB promo.

Boxing-theatre with video-art projections as a metaphor of knocking realities of the times in Aliyar Ali play Knockout

The old man and the younger self surfacing through the playing of the old tape; are confronting each other on stage in 13 rounds and knocking out each other to fall and rise in tandem. The life that survives in the mortal contexts of struggle and race is the central theme and concern of theatre. A new visual language and dynamic physical idiom of performance are explored and improvised in the process of performance which is unprecedented in Kerala and India. Physical theatre and bodily nuanced boxing theatre performance in athletic tempo merge into the absurdist realities of our times.

The fight between the old and the young as an externalization of the inner realities and conflits in a schezophrenic soceity and fascit psyche with esoteic physical and sports theatre idiom in Aliyar play Knockout

Earlier Ali has done theatrical performances using football in his Penalty Kick in 2017 based on the short fiction “Higuita” by N S Madhavan. He has also illuminated the Kerala audiences during the silence of the covid pandemic through his unique take on the lasting lives of books in the libraries titled Lib. He has also been acknowledged with recognitions. We are also reminded of V C Harris’ earlier solo adaptation of Beckett’s same play as Krappinte Avasanate Tape in Malayalam done some six years ago and Aju K Narayanan’s short film Krappum Kuruppum (2017).

Old British colonial architecture and crescent moon being part of the theatre performance in Aliyar Ali’s cross-cultural and physical theatre performance Kncockout at Palakad PMG HSSchool near Victoria College

Set and visual design by Sajith K V Cherumakan another young emerging director are simple, captivating and appropriate. The lead performances by the Sangeeta Nataka Akademi award winner Dasan Kongad as the veteran boxer, Ijaz Ahmed as the younger self, Manoj Karate as referee, Biju Vairat, Satyan Kottayi and others as coaches and ring boys are brilliantly executed. Dasettan’s performance at this senior age was remarkable and inspiring.

The lighted drone and video-art projections on the wall in Aliyar Ali play Knockout at Palakad PMG HSS

 Midhun Mohan has visually complemented the play with his video art and wide projections onto the PM Government HS School buildings near Victoria College that formed the stage and context. Mubarak Atmata has also perfected the special video effects. The projections and visualizations created an externalization of the characters and minds in an expressionist way. Akamsh Aku’s vocal improvisations called Beat-boxing in and through his body strokes, rhythmic tapings and vocal cords excelled in body theatre. Lights by Jose Koshy and sound by Satyajit added to the theatrical effects and wholistic dramatic experience.

Fall of the split psyche and survival of the fighting spirit on stage and ring in Knockout by Aliyar

The lethal fight between youth and old age or the past and the present is an external allegorical theatrical trope and anchoring premise of dramaturgy improvised by the playwright and director to suggest the inner conflicts of the human mind in turbulent schizophrenic times. Late capitalism and lethal communalization or cultural Nationalisms of various sorts that otherize our own self as an opponent to be eliminated violently; are intensifying this psychic split and schisms by further compartmentalizing the mind and society into watertight inhuman compartments of othering and violent genocidal combats.

The writer with Suresh Muttathi and Aliyar Ali at the venue of Knockout in Palakad on 8 Jan 2022

 The struggle and love-hate relationship between the sovereign self that tries to master the dissident or different other realms within the self and the struggling and resisting voice of the youthful and upsurging psyche are the subtle artistic connotations in totalitarian times. As in Penalty Kick and Lib Athlete Kayika Nataka Vedi or Body Theatre group and Human Sports Academy Palakad have once again materialized a meaningful cultural act of artful metaphorical representation of reality through Aliyar Ali’s Knockout! Congratulations to the director and his theatre team!

Text and images by Dr Ajay S. Sekher,

Assistant Professor of English, Research Supervisor and Coordinator of Centre for Buddhist Studies, SSUS Kalady 683574.  9895797798. ajaysekher@gmail.com

Dostoevsky on Kerala Stage: Aju K Narayanan’s Theatrical Production at School of Letters

School of Letters as the stage in Aju K Narayanan play St Petersburgile Chila Rapakalukal on 1 January 2022

              The new year often begins with G Sankarapillai commemoration at School of Letters, MGU Kottayam. St Petersburgile Chila Rapakalukal (Some Days and Nights in St Petersburg) a play directed by Prof Aju K Narayanan at School of Letters, MGU opened up the brave new world of culture and cross-cultural adaptations in Kerala this new year 2022 on January 1 at 7.30 pm. The script in Malayalam is also written by the director. The hour-long performance was staged at the Letters premises incorporating the two-decade-old heritage-building and the campus trees including the natural surroundings. Nature, people, landscape and even starlit skyscapes played a poignant role in this extraordinary mediated art performance. The whole world has become a stage and all the people players, this new year!

              It is based on the life and writing struggles of Fyodor Dostoevsky (1821-1881) the Russian master of the novel in the 19th century as part of his 200th birthday. His literary career and scenes from the autobiographical instances in his own fiction are artfully included and presented on a sandwich stage that moves and meanders into the spectators. The audiences are part of this intimate bio-drama in many ways. The improvisational performance space provides various viewing positions and critical self-reflexive vantages in polyphonic ways. A lasting critique of life and theatre is also implied. The survival of humanity in and through art during the pandemic forms another suggestive context.

The gambling scene in Aju Narayanan play on Dostoevsky at SoL MGU on new year day 2022

              Several scenes and characters from the biographical contexts are recreated in elegantly choreographed sequences in splendid light and audio simulations. The live Sax and rhythms played by real musicians on the flexible stage add to the tempo and feel of an organic wholesome experience. The gambling scenes are exemplary and remarkable in visual and audio effects. The theatrical critique of the political economy of publishing and repressive literary institutions and apparatuses that is significant in the present in Kerala is commendable. The work reminds us of Perumbadavam Sreedharan’s Malayalam novel Oru Sangeertanam Pole in many inter-textual ways.

Starlit sky showing Orion constellation, the architecture of Letters building, living trees on the campus and the people becoming part of art performance in Aju Narayanan play at SoL MGU on new year day 2022

              The sensitive depiction of the human relations between the celebrated author and stenographer Anna gains momentum and swoops into a reductionist denouement soon after the climax. The overall production is simple and linear. The props and sets are improvisational and minimal. Incorporation of a teaching session on the author seems precarious and protruding within the otherwise flowing and moving narrative stream. A stasis in flux adds to the dramatic paradigm shift into the present.

Dr Aju K Narayanan and his team at the closing of the play on Dostoevsky at SoL MGU Kottayam on 1 Jan 2022

The incorporation of uninitiated young students, teachers and former students of the School into the theatrical production seems to be successful and effective. The directorial assistances and inputs provided by Pradhul P C Karipod, Kripa, Krishna and Rose Lijya in dramaturgy, costumes and choreography are distinctive. The art direction by Yesudas P M, music by Jonny Kallara and lights by Anoop Puna seemed appropriate to the whole scheme of things. The cast and crew seem set for further new ventures and performances in the emerging year ahead.

Text and images by Dr Ajay S Sekher, Assistant Professor of English, Research Supervisor and Coordinator, Centre for Buddhist Studies, SSUS Kalady 683574. 9895797798 ajaysekher@gmail.com