Tamil festivals to liven up drama scene

Moksha will reinterpret classics while Tamil Drama features new work

Yemara Sonnathu Naano? looks at how finances impact relationships. The cast includes (from left) Mathiarasi Maslamani, Navinnason Radha Krishnan, G Vitthya Sivasankari and Vigneswaran Subramaniam. -- PHOTO: PAVITHRAN NATHAN
Yemara Sonnathu Naano? looks at how finances impact relationships. The cast includes (from left) Mathiarasi Maslamani, Navinnason Radha Krishnan, G Vitthya Sivasankari and Vigneswaran Subramaniam. -- PHOTO: PAVITHRAN NATHAN
Puravalan Narayanasamy (above) in Bhishma – The Grandsire staged by Avant Theatre & Language. -- PHOTO: AVANT THEATRE & LANGUAGE

Two upcoming festivals celebrating Tamil drama will be enlivening its burgeoning contemporary theatre scene.

The Tamil Drama Festival, organised by Athipathi International Theatre and to be held at the Ulu Pandan Community Centre Theatrette this week, will focus on original work.

Avant Theatre & Language's Moksha Festival, which puts the spotlight on the Indian epic of the Mahabharata, will run at the Goodman Arts Centre in late September.

Moksha's festival manager Rajkumar Thiagaras, 25, finds that there has been a recent resurgence of interest in contemporary Tamil theatre.

He says: "We have been motivated by the crowds coming to see our shows. People have been asking us for more exciting productions and more modern takes on classics."

The term "moksha" has Sanskrit roots and means emancipation, liberation or release. It is one of the central concepts of Hindu tradition and is connected with freedom from the endless cycle of death and rebirth.

Anchoring the Moksha Festival is the eponymous Moksha trilogy of plays, inspired by characters from the Mahabharata: a warrior, a game master and a dancer.

The trilogy began when the Avant Theatre was founded in 2011 with Bhishma - The Grandsire. Sakuni - Let The Game Begin was staged in 2012. The works have travelled to India, Sri Lanka and Malaysia.

These two productions will be restaged at the festival, and the trilogy's finale, Stree - The Voices Within, will make its Singapore premiere. The shows feature Tamil stage and screen actors Puravalan Narayanasamy, Balakumaran Krishnasamy, Sasirekha Rountan and Suresh Subash.

Audience members can choose to watch single shows (each about 50 minutes long) or combinations of two or three shows.

The festival will also host storytelling and discussion sessions about the Mahabharata. More ticketing details will be released in the next few weeks.

Mr Rajkumar says: "I think a lot of students might have feared reading the Mahabharata because it's a long classic and people might think it's boring. But we would like to take a new look at it and say it's a relevant text and it can be interesting and fun to read."

While the Moksha Festival will reinterpret classics in a new light, the second edition of the Tamil Drama Festival will feature entirely new and contemporary work.

After last year's inaugural Tamil Drama Festival, which about 700 people attended, organiser Pugalenthii Rama- krishnan, 53, immediately set out to commission new plays for this year's sophomore effort.

While this year's festival is slightly smaller, with a slate of four plays compared to last year's seven, Mr Pugalenthii notes that this is because of the shift in focus to producing entirely new work from scratch. This year's festival cost more than $50,000 to get off the ground.

Mr Pugalenthii, also the artistic director of Athipathi International Theatre, says: "Last year, we did plays that had all been staged before, because we wanted to be sure we could bank on quality. But these are all new. We started approaching people to write plays and a lot of work started coming in. To get so many people on board was quite a feat."

They are also hoping to work with more local Tamil theatre groups for next year's edition.

The theme of this year's festival is "uravugal", which means "relationships", and this carries across all four plays. Mr Pugalenthii has written a new work for the festival, Nadippo Nadippu (What An Act!). It is a comedy about six characters rehearsing for a performance that also examines the relationship between a star and his adoring fan.

Another play, Yemara Sonnathu Naano? (Did I Ask You To Be Gullible?), written by theatre practitioner R. Sommasundram, looks at how the different financial situations of families can possibly affect relationships and marriage.

Unmaiyaana Rasigan (Sincere Admirer), written and directed by Narayanan SNV, will put the spotlight on the iconic Tamil literary figure Subramanya Bharathi, who was active during the turn of the 20th century.

The play imagines how he might return to earth in search of a "true admirer" of his work. The poetry of Bharathi is also featured in a new work by students from Chua Chu Kang Secondary School, titled Manathil Uruthi Vaidhum (Be Bold-hearted).

Mr Pugalenthii says: "I hope that audience members will look at the relationships they have with their family members and also look at their friends and how they are selecting them. I also hope they will review their relationship with the great poets of our Indian community."


Follow Corrie Tan on Twitter @CorrieTan

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