Raji Sreenivasan :
I have been lucky to experience what appears to many as a special, once in a life-time, opportunity of watching the inimitable Biographical play of the most esteemed Maha Periyava, the Sage of Kanchi on March 23rd Saturday 10.30 AM show. Written and directed by Ilango Kumanan with the illustrious musical support of no less than Mandalin U.Rajesh and the terrific creations of settings by Art Director Padmashree Thotta Dharani and the attractive flex backdrop, the theatrical presentation takes the audience on a long, spiritually splendid journey of a young, intelligent prodigy Swaminathan becoming the 68th Pontiff of Kanchi Mutt who goes on to spread the message of care, love, peace and unity until his Mahasamadi on 8th January 1994.
Though the Director keeps claiming that this is an attempt at walking us through the 100 years of the indescribable life-span of the Kanchi Sage, the theatrical representation of Maha Periyava touches more on the principles for which Maha Periyava stands for than a mere narration of his miracles which makes the life of the Sage more meaningful to humanity.
His assertion that “uniformity is not necessary among religions whereas unity is essential” is well-structured in the play by showing Periyava’s idea of tolerance and co-existence through the introduction of the Islamic Morning Prayer Calls which the Periyava respected. The subtle touch of the Director in showing Maha Periyava’s concern in keeping voters clean as back as 1949 brings an ironic smile to our lips considering the relevance of it to today’s scenario too!
Sri.Vasudevan who has acted as Mahaperiyava from 72nd year onwards steals the show by his exact reproduction of the living Saint with his stooping shoulders, slow calculated steps, the bewitching smile, ready wit and the timely delivery of dialogues. Though there is scope for improvement in the rendering of the younger versions of Maha Periyava–Sharad and Aditya– their roles do demonstrate great effort on their parts. Ganesh Sharma, who plays the third stage of Maha Periyava shows a matured grasp of his role and does justice to his role. The make-up of all the artists is noteworthy.
The Director’s superiority in handling Maha Periyava’s life is demonstrated in the Kanakabishekam scene which he uses as the culmination scene on stage as opposed to one’s expectation that he might show Maha Samadhi scene on stage. The Director Kumanan’s artistic touch in inserting the original video clipping of Maha Periyava’s Maha Samadhi at the backdrop is a good technique. Mr.Ilango Kumanan pays special attention to the inter-personal relationships between Maha Periavaa and the various devotees and non-devotees the sage comes across, to give authentic touch to his characterisation and this approach is fresh.
It is a great achievement of the Director to include 67 local devotees from Singapore who shaped themselves into actors after one day of rehearsal. Nadaswaram and Tavil played by Singapore local musicians K.R.Selvamani and Karthick deserve special mention. Bringing Kathaadi Ramamurthy, the renowned artist to play his own role demonstrates the Director’s special effort. Making the theatrical representation of a Saint’s life this interesting and real with a kaleidoscope of colours adds a new feather of success to Mr. Ilango Kumanan and team. The Director could pay more attention to Voice Projection of his artists though, an area which could be improved. Their Singapore debut is so well-received that they have to run three house-full shows. Heartiest congratulations to all the artists involved. Great way to go!