Published: 02nd October 2019
How Theatre Akku is keeping the art of therukkothu alive and kicking in the city
Akku, the theatre group incorporates traditional art forms like therukoothu and bommalattam in their plays
They say art is a window to a man's soul. But, most often, art can also be a window to the past, a celebration of culture and a documentation of life. To ensure that traditional art forms are not lost in the glamour of contemporary art, a Chennai-based theatre group named Akku is incorporating elements of these art forms in their plays.
Akku was started in 2017 when Vetri M V and his friend, another artist named Arul Kumar. Vetri and Kumar were earlier part of another theatre group in Pondicherry called Indianostrum. They started a play called Adavu which was based on the art form therukoothu. "We started it is because we city dwellers are not exposed to traditional art and culture. Many have never heard about Therukoothu, what their stories and songs are like and how it was created. We realised that by doing this play, we can educate people about this art form and at the same time, entertain them with theatre as well," explains Vetri.
Vetri and his troupe met a therukoothu master, whose family had been doing it for three generations. "They gave us all their support to use their notes and songs. We also undertook some training in therukoothu," says Vetri. Akku first staged this play at a theatre festival in Egmore Museum Theatre in 2017. Thereafter, they added a lot of new elements and started performing in other cities within Tamil Nadu. The actors, after being auditioned had to be trained in therukoothu. Akku has performed about 23 shows so far, reaching an audience of almost 10,000 people. They have performed in various schools, colleges, juvenile homes and rural areas.
On stage: Members of the troupe in their costumes
Vetri recalls his most memorable moment so far, "Once we performed in a tribal village and after the play, an elderly man came to us and started crying. Apparenty, he was once part of a therukoothu troupe, but they had to break up due to financial constraints. So when he saw us playing, he got nostalgic, and became emotional. He encouraged us and thanked us repeatedly for reviving the art." He adds, "Therikuthu or any other traditional art form has a lot of stories, information and history behind it. Tamil cinema was adopted from therukoothu. Traditional art forms are the base of any modern art and it needs to be celebrated. Most of our scripts are based on novels, but we improvise it."
Explaining why he feels the need to expose young people to traditional art, he says, "In recent times, there are many art forms which are still being practised in rural areas, but people in cities have no clue about it because their lifestyles are so busy. So as artists ourselves, it's our duty to bring these traditional art forms into the city. It is a celebration. There are many other art forms in Tamil Nadu." For instance, for one of their plays, they used the art form called Bommalattam and they had to get the dolls from Thanjavur, where it has been manufactured for generations. Akku has also been conducting workshops on other art forms like Devarattam, a dance that is performed with a musical instrument called Urimi. They also organised a creative puppetry workshop for kids.
Thirty-year-old Vetri who started his career as a lead actor for a TV series had decided to take a break and pursue theatre and he has no regrets so far. "Theatre isn't easy. Financial constraints are always an issue. But we love what we're doing. We are trying to promote art forms and get different artists together," he adds.