Date:07/08/2010 URL: http://www.thehindu.com/thehindu/mp/2010/08/07/stories/2010080750050100.htm
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Need for change

Pavunkunju, a street play directed by Pralayan, captures the flaws in our education system

PHOTO: T. SINGARAVELOU

PLAY TIME A scene from Pavunkunju

The character of Ranchchod Das Chanchad in the movie “3 Idiots”, played by Aamir Khan, started a debate around the education system in this country. The character Pavunkunju, in the street play under the same name, directed by Pralayan, has a striking resemblance to the Amir Khan's character in the movie. But this play was first performed in 2002, way before the Bollywood blockbuster hit the screens.

The street play was recently hosted at Mason Columbani as part of a three-day theatre festival jointly organised by the Tourism Department and Indianostrom Theatre.

Pralayan, the founder of the Chennai Kalai Kuzu, in his own inimitable style, narrates the flaws in the education system in our country, through the innocence of the characters. Pavunkunju is a primary school student in a village who struggles to cope with the gruelling ritual of learning lessons by rote and reproducing them in the examinations.

Pralayan also portrays the disconnect between a student and his teacher in schools today. An otherwise intelligent kid, who is highly popular among his friends, Pavunkunju struggles to find the reason as to why his teacher brands him as foolish. When he dares to ask the teacher himself, he is accused of being a brat who questions the teacher's authority, and is reprimanded.

The dilemma of the need of certification for any kind of knowledge in this modern world and the disregard for traditional forms of knowledge handed down generations is beautifully showcased when the protagonist ridicules his father for his ability to treat cows even though he had never gone to school.

The scene that depicts his inability when the teacher tries to force the lessons down his throat through a funnel, received a thunderous applause from the audience. The audience obviously connected well with the plight of Pavunkunju.

The director, who started a film society in Thiruvannamalai before moving to Chennai, also deftly handles the more sensitive aspects of the society, such as class and caste, by showcasing how, sometimes, the judgement of the teacher about a student is highly influenced by the ward's background than by his conduct. Pavunkunju, being the son of a farm labourer, is, invariably, considered unfit for education while his more privileged classmates receive lavish praise from the teacher.

The over emphasis on Western literature is also taken up in scenes where the children receive flak from their father for singing the rhyme ‘Rain rain go away', when the village is reeling under a drought.

The use of street play as a medium to inform people about burning social issues is losing patronage, but Pralayan believes it still effectively carries the message forcefully. Of course, the response to the play depends highly on the audience. As most street plays deal with issues of the poor such as social and economic justice, performing on the streets rather than in elite enclosures such as the Mason Columbani will attract better response, the director says.

Street plays are also difficult to stage as actors have to work with minimum props and space, and transition of scenes must happen quickly and smoothly to keep the audience engaged. Most of the actors do not take any salary, and the troupe depends on the collection, for its survival. “Only the most committed can sustain in this field,” Pralayan says.

The need to introspect on the kind of education our children receive and the dire need of a change was well conveyed. Rather than sticking to the original script formulated years ago, the play has integrated latest developments, including the Right to Education Act, emphasising on the need to demand education that can no longer be denied to a child.

SRUTHISAGAR YAMUNAN

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