Chennai and Tamil Nadu
Photo: S. Mahinsha
‘Pravachaka,’ a 90-minute play staged by ‘Nireeksha,’ delved into the power structure in society and how women still find it difficult to be heard.
Unheard voices: The director and the scriptwriter of ‘Pravachaka’ successfully adapted the story of Cassandra to make a statement on the status of women in a patriarchal society.
Pravachaka,’ a play on the Greek mythological character Cassandra, electrified the audience at Tagore Theatre, Thiruvananthapuram. Presented by the women’s theatre group ‘Nireeksha,’ the 90-minute play ‘Pravachaka’ was directed by C.V.Sudhi and scripted by E. Rajarajeswari.
Athira’s gripping interpretation and portrayal of the lead role of Cassandra captivated many hearts.
As the lights dimmed, the play opened with two women happily playing in a field – Cassandra and Athena, Goddess of weaving and other crafts. Their amusement is cut short as Apollo, one of the Olympian gods, interrupts the mirth. A quarrel ensues between Apollo and Cassandra as she disputes his decision to send Paris to abduct Helen. Cassandra, as she is a prophetess, foresees the future – the war, the Trojan horse and the fire that would consume Troy. But she is rebuked by Apollo.
Soon, Cassandra is labelled insane as she continues to rave about the destruction that awaits Troy. Sparks fly in the trial that ensues. Priam, her father, is unyielding, and whenever he is stumped for an answer, as Cassandra questions him, he uses his power and status to cut her short. Cassandra is sidelined for all the wrong reasons.
Meanwhile Cassandra asks Athena how she was transformed into a goddess of war. She replies by narrating a story about a goddess who, as a sprawling tree, gave shade and shelter to the people in a village. But as the village grew, the men became greedy and jealous, and they started using her as a goddess of war much against her wishes. Even goddesses are helpless.
The rich subtexts in the play became evident as the play progressed. Cassandra becomes a symbol for every woman’s plight and predicament and the play, an allegory. As war is forced on a peaceful land, the women have almost no say in the matter and can only watch the death and destruction that follow. In the meeting with Aeneas, Cassandra brushes aside his plea to run away with him from battle-stricken Troy. “For what? You will also become one like them when you prosper,” Cassandra says.
All through the play, the men and women seemed to be dwelling on different hemispheres on account of the language they use. Although they speak the same language, the cadences are different and they seem to be speaking at cross purposes. The director and the script writer emphasised the differences in the mindscapes of men and women.
Says Rajarajeswari: “Although there are references to the Greek myth and suggestions of the period, it is not a costume drama. Cassandra could see the future but nobody believed her. Even today, a woman’s voice is never heard.
“Women who raise their voice against war and wrong development policies are labelled eccentric or insane. It is the patriarchal power structure that tries to snuff out their voice. In the play, Apollo represents the patriarchal power structure that refuses to heed a woman’s voice. It is on account of his curse that Cassandra’s words are not believed. This ‘curse’ exists even today and so there is an attempt to silence women.”
Many scenes of the play are visually memorable as Rajarajeswari has succeeded in making a potent and poetic distillation from the life of Cassandra. Sudhi’s superb direction has made ‘Pravachaka’ a penetrating examination of the fate of women.
Superb team work
With a bit of dance and enchanting instrumental music thrown in for good measure, along with effective costumes and symbolic props which represent power, the play enthralled the viewers. Athira’s superb portrayal of Cassandra was well supported by Rajawarrier (Priam) and Rajesh Sharma (Apollo). Kani’s depiction of Athena was intense and focused.
Lalitha Lenin, poetess, in her introductory speech told the audience about the essence of the play: “We are ready to accept a prophet. But if the prophet is a woman, people want her mad.”
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Chennai and Tamil Nadu