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SCENESTEALERS

The stage is his world

KAUSALYA SANTHANAM

Theatre has the capacity to address everyday concerns effectively, according to director-actor-producer K.P. Pravin.



His MYRIAD ACTS: Pravin — and stills from his productions Veshakaran and Eelam (centre).

This director-producer-actor believes in taking the theatre to the common people. Whether it is touring the villages of Tamil Nadu with the Magic Lantern group, helping build the infrastructure to assist local theatre groups or staging plays in Tamil , K.P. Pravin’s commitment to the medium has been apparent these past 20 years. “The theatre is a visual and popular medium. It has the capacity to address a lot of concerns of everyday living,” he says.

It is a completely underutilised medium, feels Pravin. “Over the years, there seems to be some misgiving among the middle class that it is infra dig to do Tamil theatre.” Although he is not involved in every day rehearsal or performance any more, Pravin is part of the core group of the Indian Theatre Forum founded by Prithvi Theatre’s Sanjana Kapoor, among others, to create a network for those working in theatre in different parts of the country.

One of Pravin’s significant contributions to the theatre scene in the city is the founding of Magic Lantern in 1993 along with colleagues Hans Kaushik, E. Kumaravel, M. Pasupathy, J. Jayakumar and Krishna Devanandan. “The infrastructure made available by Top Storey at the Alliance Francaise (AF) was useful as it provided space for rehearsals and also a platform for putting up plays. Top Storey wound up two years ago after Jean Pascal Elbaz, former Director of the AF, left Chennai,” says Pravin.

In the past two decades, Pravin has directed, produced and acted in a number of plays including those of Indira Parthasarathy, Moliere, Brecht, Camus and an adaptation of Kalki Krishnamurthy’s work. He has trained in diverse aspects of the theatre — mime, mask making, puppet making, martial arts as well as in sound, lights and set design and videography. He has also acted in pantomimes, films and television serials.

His foray

Pravin’s initiation into the theatre began when he was a student of the Loyola College. He joined French classes at the AF and participated in plays directed by the AF Director Sylvain Pieplu. “Koothu-p-pattarai was rehearsing in the next hall and I became friends with Prasad, Pasupathy and Jayakumar,” he says.

Pieplu had to opt out of the play and Pravin ended up directing it for AF. “They were happy with the result and sent me off on a scholarship to France. I gained a fantastic opportunity to attend the Avignon Festival and was able to watch 60 international productions in 14 days!” he says.

Well known French director Ariane Mnouchkine was in Paris then directing a play on the Partition of India (in which Nirupama Nityanandan was acting). “I spent three months in Paris watching rehearsals and also participated in a production at Strasbourg. As I watched plays with Indian settings and actors, using our traditional art forms, I suddenly knew clearly what I wanted to do — I wanted to be in India doing such plays.” And he came back home to devote his energies to the Tamil theatre.

The aim of Magic Lantern was to take “contemporary theatre to newer audiences.” Recalls Pravin, “We performed our first two plays ‘Pinnochio’ and ‘Fables’ in over 25 schools in Chennai. In 1995, I directed Albert Camus’s ‘Caligula’ for Koothu-p-pattarai. After this, I stopped working for K.P. and continued my career in painting. Some time later, AF wanted us to do ‘Jeremy.’ But the show at the AF brought only sparse audiences.”

Magic Lantern then decided to take its plays to the villages. “We wanted to give back to the villages the performing traditions we had taken from them. Moliere’s plays filled with humour and satire fit into our milieu beautifully and so we chose ‘Tartuffe.’ We toured 20 villages in and around Cheyyar and Thiruvannamalai with the adaptation, ‘Veshakkaran’ — to a fantastic response. Film makers Swarnavel and Arulmozhi who were with us were dazzled by the level of our interaction with the crowd. Swarnavel then suggested we take up Kalki’s ‘Ponniyin Selvan,’ something popular, to bring audiences to the theatre.”

‘Ponniyin Selvan’ was followed by ‘Pattam,’ the Tamil adaptation of Shakespeare’s ‘Richard III.’ “It was not on the same scale as ‘Ponniyin Selvan’ but it did well,” says Pravin.

Then came the Top Storey project. Now that it has closed, what next?

“We have to move on,” says Pravin. “The Indian Theatre Forum’s vision is to create a national resource for the theatre and we had a seminar in March 2008 in Heggodu to reassess the scene after the first Drama Seminar was organised by the Sangeet Natak Akademi 49 years ago.”

***

‘Incredible outpouring of goodwill’

Kalki Krishnamurthy’s ‘Ponniyin Selvan’ directed by Pravin and presented by Magic Lantern in 1999 was a landmark production of the group. Pravin recapitulates the experience of making the spectacular epic:

“I turned to E. Kumaravel to adapt this tour de force of historical fiction for the stage as he knew the 5 volumes almost by heart. He said ‘I can adapt it if you direct it.’ We then launched into that ‘bit of madness.’ It took a whole year. Eight lakh rupees were needed and in Magic Lantern, we were making just enough to survive. Kamal Hassan and Mani Ratnam held the rights. But then there was a stroke of luck. It was the centenary year of Kalki and Chief Minister Karunanidhi declared that all Kalki’s works were in the public domain. We plunged into the production. Kumaravel came up with a script. It was 11 hours long! ‘Edit it’, we told him. He came back with script that was nine hours long! Finally, we got one for a performance time of four hours and 20 minutes. We had four performances and nearly got lynched by those who could not get tickets,” he smiles.

“We had to put up speakers to let them hear the script. What was great was the production brought the theatre community together. We borrowed actors from groups such as Na. Muthusawamy’s Koothu-p-pattarai. Thota Tharani did the sets spending money from his own pocket. Nasser who had just completed ‘Devathai’ lent us spears, costumes and shields, and agreed to play the role of Karikalan. Rajeev Menon gave us the generators free and Hariharan, the wigs used in his teleserial ‘Alwars.’ Mu. Ramasamy of the Thanjavur Tamil University and K.A. Gunasekharan of the Pondicherry School of Drama came all the way to rehearse. The tragedy was not one of us got a pie out of it despite tickets worth Rs. 70,000 being sold. But it was an incredible outpouring of goodwill.”

K.S.

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