Saturday, March 27, 2004

Cultural Cohesion - Silappadhikaaram


“Three years ago, when I read Lakshmi Holmstrom’s translation of Silappadhikaaram, it ceased to be a simple story of Kannagi’s rage setting aflame the city of Madurai. Along with A.V.Ilango’s illustrations, the book brought alive for me, the timelessness of the emotions felt by the characters of the original.” says Uma Ganesan, President of the Cleveland Cultural Alliance (C.C.A).

CCA’S focus has been on excellence in presentation, production and performance. And it has to be of international standard as their latest production, ‘Silappadhikaaram…a Story of Women of Substance’ moves to North America in September 2004 after premiering in Chennai on April 4, 2004.

Silappadhikaaram is undoubtedly, a gem of the literature of the Sangam era. Apart from its undisputed literary merit, it is a great source of information on the lives and mores of the people of Tamil Nadu and Kerala of the period. It provides valuable information on the arts of the period, notably dance and music.

Uma feels that Kannagi and Madhavi, the female protagonists of the story, although seemingly from different ends of the spectrum, do have a similarity as women of substance. They are the ‘hero’ of the story. While their basic character has been retained, an insight into their strengths as women has been attempted.

After studying the work in greater detail, the need was felt to put together a team of immensely talented individuals in order to create a realistic representation of the times as well as present an interpretation that is fresh and at once insightful.

CCA’s presentation of Silappadhikaaram promises to be interesting not only for its interpretation of the story with the female protagonists as the focus but also for the synergy within the team.

Dance has been retained as the most important factor in the production and all other areas work complementary to it. G.Narendra has choreographed this production and his dancers from Avigna Dance Ensemble provide the form for this dance drama. Bombay Jayashri Ramnath, recognized as one of India's leading classical musicians, agreed readily to compose the music. An interesting experiment for her has been the use of ragaas in their non-traditional applications. Kanimozhi Karunanidhi, a published poet and a lover of Sangam literature has written the script for the dance. A fine line had to be tread, she says, between contemporising the work and at the same time, retaining the flavour and context of the original. In fact, it has been a new and enriching experience for both Jayashri and Kanimozhi to understand the role of visualisation in every aspect of the making of a historical dance drama.

Lakshmi Srinath researched the costumes of the period to bring in authenticity while adapting them for dance. Ilango, whose illustrations inspired this production, designed the set. Depikka Nagaraj transformed these designs to the third dimension, at the same time, enabling them to be dismantled and packed into trunks almost akin to the travelling drama troupes of yore.

Silappadhikaaram, being quite an elaborate story, poses some hurdles in terms of the choice of scenes and adaptation to dance. Moreover, to interpret a literary work replete with emotion, passion and understanding of human nature set 2000 years ago, and compressing it into a 2-hour production is no mean feat.

Pic courtesy Third Eye
An edited version of this article was published in Madras Plus on March 27, 2004 .