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

Marks and Sparks in Performance during the Pandemic

Marks an innovative and interactive performance by Abheesh Sasidharan and team is a unique theatrical and performance-based artistic enterprise. It is played before the people from 2021 October 4 to 8. This collective aesthetic venture is performed in collaboration with School of Drama of Calicut University at Aranattukara campus near Thrissur. It is an artistic homage to the legendary British architect who became an Indian, Mr Laurie Baker (1917-2007) who is the master architect of the still versatile and diverse structures there standing in the Aranattukara campus. Architecture, theatre, nature, performance and the people become one in an intertwined aesthetic and truly polyphonic experience.

Marks by Aheesh Sasidharan at School of Drama Trisur 2021. Photo: Ajay Sekher

The whole theatre fraternity and community at the School of Drama are involved in the elaborate moving performance. Techno-art and conservationist politics merge with human rights issues and the critique of the hierarchical society in the context of intersectionality and graded inequality. A scathing critique of power and totalitarianism is the deeply impinged impetus of the cultural event. Animalization and demonization of the human, othering and dehumanization and the biopower and resistance potential of the subjugated form a key contemporary theme that is theatrically explored and multi-vocally enacted from the beginning to the end in deeply intricate and multi-sensory ways. The various little episodes are linked through the narrative/s of motion and change. Truly multi-cultural or polyphonic vision and multi-sensory experiences make it an engaging artistic creation or combined and involved making or production of social democracy and justice at large.

From the performance Marks at School of Drama, a homage to Laurie Baker too

 The concern for humanity, life at large and ecology are thrust areas of this key artistic intervention. The very survival and sustenance of life during the contagion and the the current conjecture involving totalitarian and monopoly formations both in Kerala and India and the world at large become the real setting and context of this ethical and political act of art. A new performance idiom and language of collaborative and participatory action are also evolved through exploring the non-visual and auditory stimuli. Touch, smell, and temperature differences and sensations are also utilized dexterously in the production. Eye masking and sense of taste are subtly embedded into the performance choreography and syncretic text. The whole world becomes players and performance makers in this unison.

Animalization and othering as dramatized in Marks by Abheesh Sasidharan at SoD Trisur

Marks leaves deep and engaging imprints of life and art onto the body and mind of the engaged moving audience as they are guided through the dark interiors and starlit exteriors and the drizzling thickets and the wet hedges skirting the old bare-brick architectural ensemble in an island like landscape amidst vast Kol wetlands and paddy fields of Thrissur suburbia. The natural vegetation, huge and meandering mango trees and other wild plants that literally engulf the campus in an ethereal way in the light showers and magical lightning as the gentle rain or rainbow from heaven become the organic arena and real-life props of the performance. The twittering of the birds and their soft landing and cajoling near our ears, shoulders, and neck are mesmerizing and scintillating. The elephant encounter in the blinded play within the play is unforgettable. The smell of the wild tuskers in the humid air becomes part of our senses and reflexes.

Surviving the pandemic through agriculture and culture as depicted in Marks by Abheesh Sasidharan

Solar and dynamo-like renewable energy sources are used for lighting and minimal illuminations that sparks critical and creative thoughts, affects and emotions in the audience in intricate ways. It is a watershed in the history of performance in Kerala as its true predecessor Madness done by Abheesh on the short fiction of C Ayyappan earlier in Kochi in 2019 within a moving Ambassador motor car at Tripunitura.

Intimate and multi-sensory peformance in Marks by Abheesh Sasidharan at SoD Trisur 2021.

The improvisational and contextually evolving theatrical language used in tandem with the performers who are students and academic exponents of theatre and performance make it unique and historic once again. This collective and collaborative artwork involves and actively engages the audience in creating the music of life and a true polyphony of community and collective survival in the time of the pandemic. Let it be a new beginning for theatre and performance in Kerala after the colossal wreck of the cultural space during the pandemic.

Dr Ajay S Sekher  

5 October 2021. +91 9895797798