Theatre groups in Chennai bring Broadway shows all the way to the city's stages. Shakespeare is, of course, a weekend crowd puller and original English scripts, quite a regular affair. But where is our good old Tamil theatre? And where is our street theatre?
It happens. But they are not as publicised as the English plays, not usually ticketed and don't always attract the "elite" crowds. However, they do exist and efforts are being put to bring them together. By who? The barely one-year old Theatrekaran, established by three men, all alumni of the Chettinad Vidyashram who are on a mission to revive Tamil theatre in the city.
"In my research, I've found that there are almost 17 Tamil theatre groups in the city, but you don't hear of them because they don't reach out to a wider audience, we want to collaborate with them and make it accessible to all theatre lovers," said Sriram Jeevan, on of the founders.
Housefull: The group's first public production 'Mara' will open this weekend
The other two founders are Sabarivas Vasukannan and Raghavender S, all three have a decade of theatre experience starting from school. "In Chettinad, theatre was given top priority, we would put in six months of rehearsals for a production. I mainly got into theatre because I could bunk classes, but well, the decision was life changing," said Sabari.
While Sabari and Raghav did a lot of plays together, but it was for the play 'Krishna' that Sriram joined and the three first began to bond. The trio credit their guru Jeyakumar Janakiram, the director of their school plays for being the reason for their deep bond with theatre.
The three continued to perform for many years with the 'Chettinad Players' before deciding to set up Theatrekaran, "While Sriram was assisting in the direction, lights and other production processes, Raghav and I were always playing the lead roles in the plays. We also seemed older compared to the others school children on stage, so we decided to take a step back and allowing others to take the stage," Sabari said.
In Chettinad, theatre was given top priority, we would put in six months of rehearsals for a production. I mainly got into theatre because I could bunk classes, but well, the decision was life changing
Sabarivas Vasukannan, one of the founders of Theatrekaran
In between, the three shot a lot of short films and ad films but theatre kept calling them back because it remained their first love and they knew more about theatre than anything else.
When the three pitched the idea to their mentor Jayakumar, he was thrilled, "He said he would be behind us 100 percent," Sriram said. In school, the theatre club concentrated on bringing the great epics to stage, Theatrekaran is in a way taking this forward too.
Character chart: The group wants to tell the individual stories of the characters in the Ramayana
The group's first public production 'Mara' will open this weekend at the Music Academy and rehearsals are in full swing. While Sriram is fully involved in theatre, Raghav and Sabari hold other jobs as well, but just like when they were probably school kids, the minute they get to leave they run to the stage.
'Mara' is yet another adaption of the Ramayana but Sriram, who is directing the play says that this version is unique in every aspect. "We are not concentrating on the religious aspect or the fantasy, we want to tell the individual stories of the characters in the Ramayana. Different writers have already written about different characters, so we are bringing these stories together and focussing just on what they have to say. They'll be simple discussing their personal diaries," Sriram explained.
Street style: A steady focus on reviving Tamil street theatre as well
But they don't want to restrict themselves to the epics and are keen on branching out to different genres of theatre, including maintaining a steady focus on reviving Tamil street theatre as well. "We want people to realise how exciting street theatre can be and how far it takes its message. If people understood how thrilling the whole experience is, more people would be interested in it, " said Raghav.
So, here's hoping that with Theatrekaran at the helm, more Tamil theatre takes centre stage in the near future!
While online bookings have come to an end, onsite theatre booking is still open for the play. Mara will have two shows on August 12 and 13, at 5 and 7 pm.