From local acts to globe-trotting productions, theatre artistes tell us why home is where the art is.
This year’s Short+Sweet edition had everything from the everyday struggles of a tall Chennai girl pressurised
by society to find a groom (Tale of a Tall Girl), to the madness that follows the release of a film here (First Day First Show). Most productions had an unmistakable Chennai connect, peppered with the little things that make up the character of the city. Speaking about the trend, Tamil actor and founder of Theatre Y, Yog Japee (who was part of the jury of the theatre festival) says, “Every single aspect of Chennai lends itself to storytelling. It’s rich and diverse in so many ways—you can celebrate it, crib about it, whine about it and praise it. But every whine, praise and celebration has a story behind it.” We decided to explore the phenomenon further and talk to those artistes who have literally put the city in the spotlight, with scripts, themes and characters.
V Balakrishnan | Theatre Nisha
With around 103 productions to its name—from plays such as Ringa Ringa Roses, inspired by La Ronde, which had a Chennai Noir inspiration, to Solladi Sivashakthi in Tamil, which was based on the stories of the then city-based writer Andal Priyadarshini—the 16-year-old company’s repertoire has showcased unmatched versatility with respect to its content. His recent Tamil directorial, Aurangazeb, by theatre community Shraddha, has received rave reviews across the board, and V Balakrishnan, the artistic director of Theatre Nisha, says the city’s earnestness to learn is a constant source of inspiration. However, he feels that we have few people—with regards to education and experience—when it comes to sets, light and costume design. “But these few are brilliant and of international standards. Natesh Muthuswamy, Michael Muthu and Victor Paulraj for sets and lights, and Neela Krishnamurthy and a few others for costumes.” On how the city’s theatre compares with other metros, he feels that, “In Chennai it is still largely part time and a lacunae exists in terms of earnest work.”
Mathivanan Rajendran | Stray Factory
Having taken their productions to countries like South Africa, the US, Australia, Singapore, the UAE and Malaysia, one of city-based collaborative Stray Factory’s objectives has been to go ‘glo-cal’—taking local aesthetics to a global stage. Be it their production, My Name Is Cine-maa, the short 10-minute play, Jolly Pattinam 2065—which ponders on a future prediction of the city—or even their web series, Black Sheep, all have culled out factors that make the city unique. “I think pretty much all our plays have a little bit of a Chennai connect. Over the last few years, we have continuously increased that connect because we wanted to identify more with the city and its people,” Mathivanan Rajendran, the six-year-old theatre group’s founder, tells us. He adds that Chennai’s unique way of celebrating things is one thing that continues to inspire him. Having done more than six full length productions and about 10 short plays, the group is currently working on a Tamil Nadu-based script set in the British era.
Janardhanan Raghavan | Quid Pro Quo
While The Ordinary City didn’t win the best production (it was the runner up) at the Short + Sweet theatre festival, it did win a lot of hearts. With its story of someone who comes to the city with preconceived notions about Chennai, but ends up not wanting to leave it, the production, directed by Janardhanan Raghavan, was endearing for its simple storytelling and nuanced performances. With a mix of short plays and full length theatre productions, the more-than-four-year-old Quid Pro Quo has had flavours of the city infused in other scripts, too, such as the recent 108 or 1008: That Is The Question, which showed a day in the life of every young Tam Brahm boy’s life. “Pretty much whatever we have done has always had a trace of the city,” says the co-founder of the theatre company, who is currently fleshing out the script of Damayanthi—about a Sri Lankan refugee family settling in Chennai—which was also staged at the festival.
Besides their campus drives and college initiatives, CreaShakthi is known for its locally-themed scripts. Their recent production, the Tamil adaptation of William Shakespeare’s The Tempest, was set in Chennai during the floods. “There has been a conscious effort over the last one-and-a-half-years to bring in more local references and things people can relate to,” says Dushyanth Gunashekar, founder of the five-year-old theatre group, which has done over 364 shows and is currently working on seven productions which will all “in a certain way have a Chennai connect”.
Text: Simar Bhasin