March 11, 2012

QATAR: Cool Jokes Raise Laughter

DOHA, Qatar / Gulf Times / March 11, 2012

By Nahla Nainar/Features Editor

It takes a rather high leap of the imagination to accept slightly off-kilter love stories that involve senior citizens falling in love and eloping, even as fancy-free “youngsters” are waiting to tie the knot, and a missing heiress named after an ice cream. But on Friday, the audience that gathered to watch south Indian theatre personality and cineaste S Ve Shekher and his Natakapriya troupe in action, was in a mood to take that leap.

Two Tamil plays were staged by Natakapriya – Yaamirukka Bayam Yean, and Alwhaa, in back-to-back shows from 4-9pm. Both dramas, held at the Doha Cinema, attracted full houses.


Yaamirukka Bayam Yean started off with three sisters, ‘Appalam’ Abhirami, ‘Sight’ Shanti, and lawyer (or ‘liar?’) Krishnaveni, pondering their marriage options. A spinster at 40, eldest sister Abhirami is on the lookout for a match for her middle sister Krishnaveni, but it is the youngest Shanti who seems to be most likely to get hitched first, considering her success rate in meeting young men.


S Ve Shekher plays Vetrivel, a lawyer, and Krishnaveni’s sworn professional enemy, and coincidentally, also in the marriage market. His bachelor uncle Upendran (played with alacrity by M Sivasankaran) decides to use a matchmaker to find a bride for Vetrivel. 


Fate and his transistor-loving friend Double-Decker (D Subramanian) lead him to Abhirami, and to marriage (after a delightfully lurid spoof of Tamil cinema dream songs, complete with flashing disco lights), leaving Vetrivel and Krishnaveni high and dry.


Much running around later, all the couples find their match, and all ends well, if a little confusedly.



M. Sivasankaran,  D. Subramanian, and S. Ve Shekher in a scene from
Yaamirukka Bayam Yean
For the second play, viewers entering the theatre were offered complimentary halwa (a nod to the title of the drama, which uses the Tamil colloquial version of the Arabic word, halwa, meaning sweet). 

In Alwhaa, stacked with even more improbable back-stories, Seerkazhi loses his daughter, called Kulfi (an Indian variety of ice cream), when she is two years old, at an exhibition. He and his father Chidambaram would like to get Kulfi back, but the detectives they engage, CID Madurai (D Subramanian, who also goes by the nickname ‘Telephone’ Mani and Ganesh (S Ve Shekher), seem to be caught up in a cloak and dagger game of one-upmanship. Then there’s the “love through love letters and phone calls only” sub-plot that takes over the entire proceedings.


The climax pairs up the right characters, and all is well in S Ve Shekher’s comedic universe once again.



The peformances, given the constraints of being set in a venue that was clearly not made for staging plays, were excellent throughout. Shekher was the star of the evening, at ease with his celebrity, and quick to iron out technical glitches even while the plays were on, ad libbing much to the glee of the audience. 

In Yaamirukka Bayam Yean, actor Sivasankaran’s spirited performance belied his age (73 years), and with his co-star Vandana as Abhirami, carried quite a lot of the story in the initial stages. 


Alwhaa’s puns on ice cream names got some laughs, but the viewers’ vote would have gone more to ‘Telephone’ Mani as CID Madurai, and in drag as one of the fake Kulfis. 


Swift costume changes, especially by the actresses Lakshmi and Sujatha, and by S Ve Shekher, helped to set the pace of the scenes, and convey the passage of time within the story.
The plays’ themes were not high-brow, and as Shekher pointed out at the end, Natakapriya’s aim has always been to entertain rather than preach to the paying public. His expertise in including news headlines into the dialogues infused a freshness in the dramas, which were premiered several years ago.


That the Tamil language has a rich tradition of word play was an added bonus to the dialogue-heavy dramas, though the lines never slipped into innuendo (a feat seeing how many star-crossed lovers were treading the boards). The jokes, peppered with digs at politicians, television series and films, were intended to provoke thought, but only after the laughter. 
What could have been better? The production values suffered due to the extremely limited space available on stage. Despite this, the expertise of the Natakapriya team and local organisers in installing the sets came to the fore.

 
Perhaps the time is right in Qatar for a custom-built venue that meets the requirements of reasonably-priced theatre productions.


Proceeds from the Natakapriya shows will go toward helping low-income Indian expatriates who are stranded without passports or residence permits in Qatar.



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