Theatre review: Parasu: The Story Of An Ultimate Warrior mixes traditional theatre with comic interludes and contemporary styles

The cast of Avant Theatre's Tamil play Parasu, which will be staged as part of Kalaa Utsavam - Indian Festival of Arts 2018.
The cast of Avant Theatre's Tamil play Parasu, which will be staged as part of Kalaa Utsavam - Indian Festival of Arts 2018.PHOTO: ESPLANADE - THEATRES ON THE BAY

Review/ theatre

Parasu: The Story Of An Ultimate Warrior

Avant Theatre

Esplanade Theatre Studio/ Last Friday

SINGAPORE - Trapped between straightforward retelling and questioning a myth, Parasu: The Story Of An Ultimate Warrior needs a bit more polish to turn into a gem of a play.

Written by Elavazhagan Murugan and directed by Avant Theatre's artistic director G. Selva, Parasu begins by depicting the life and deeds of Parasurama, the sixth avatar of the Hindu god Vishnu. Legend has it that he was born to bring balance to the world by killing the wicked.

At the start, his birth and upbringing are dealt with in traditional style, complete with declamations and long recitations of each character's virtues.

Midway, however, the play changes its tone with comic interludes and a contemporary style of theatre. In quick sketches, other mythical characters and a nameless boy (delightfully played by Tharun Dayal) question the warrior-sage's quick temper and violent actions. Is Parasurama (played by Selvagananthan Muthuram) acting according to destiny or is he failing to learn his lessons?

Parasu was commissioned for the Esplanade's annual Kalaa Utsavam: Indian Festival of Arts, which is programmed soon after Deepavali. This festive period celebrates another avatar of Vishnu, Rama, and traditionally, in various parts of India, community plays would re-enact scenes from the Ramayana during this time.

In Parasu, however, Parasurama's story takes centre-stage. His appearances in the Ramayana and the later epic, the Mahabharata are threaded together, showing how this long-lived, short-tempered character was critical to the plot of each.

Parasurama appears to test latter-day heroes or pass on his skills. Yet, in each appearance, he displays unrestrained rage. Despite the efforts of Rama and his wife Sita (played by Shaikh Yasin Rahmatullah and Indu Elangovan) and the appeals of the overlooked princess Amba from the Mahabharata (a powerful Thiviyya Gansean), the sage continues to react without thinking first.

The message of Parasu is that unreasonable anger has no place in the world. Anger can be a powerful force for good, but the trick is to let it go once it begins to hurt the innocent.