The reading, discussions and analysis of Abhayarthikal continued and this exercise brought new ideas and insights in us. The propositions that came into limelight can be summarized as —
- The most interesting aspect or ‘the line’ in the play is that of Janaki when she says ‘there is no much difference between the homeless refugees and the refugees with a home and family. We all are refugees irrespective that we have a home’. This statement can be the super-objective of the play. Every human has the same insecurity as the refugees; if we examine deeper and close enough, the helplessness, insecurity and uncertainty of the refugee will surface almost in everyone.
- Thus the most important characters are to be the invisible refugees in the text, and they should be brought forth as visible metaphors in the performance. Also there should be links and threads that connect the refugees and the characters of the play. The validity of the production may depend upon the efficiency with which this connection is made.
- There is a socio-political rationale that exemplifies the story. The ideology of the play links it with the general radicalism of the sixties where the potency and structure of the concept of a ‘strong family’ started to disintegrate. Janaki breaks the family and comes out. The encounter between Janaki and her husband in the final sequence is eloquent enough to suggest the falsity of the concept of a smooth and solid family set up. Prabhakaran, the other character wanted to marry a girl and initiate a family life which did not take place and his mental balance is spoiled. The old man spent the whole life to bring up his son and tried his best to create an upright family, but he turned into a stray soul on the death of his son. Thus the dream to establish a family and attempts to live in tune with the establishment is disturbed resulting in expatriate identities and that makes the ‘story’ of the play. The play hints on the breaking up and disintegration of the social structure based on solid families.
- There are obvious economic reasons for this social transition. The porter married his daughter to a better alliance due to financial reasons. Appu, the son of the old man has to join the army is eventually killed, is also out of economic compulsions and poverty. The peddler and the leader are also the outcome of the same economic and deplorable social condition. The reason for the refugees to migrate to an alien land may also be the poverty and lack of survival prospective in their birthplace.
- There is also a mystical and philosophical component in being a refugee. A refugee is almost a gypsy, a group of people sharing the space, sufferings and possibilities; but not bonded to each other strongly. They may or may not be related as in a conventional family, may be blood- relatives or may be unfamiliar and has come together on the demand of time and state of affairs -- a group of people abandoned and living together with its own laws of ethics and customs. They live in temporary arrangements and are always in a threshold to move and that gives immense freedom to make life lighter for them.
- We could observe the same slackening of bonds in present day families too, where migration is the order of the new global situation. It is normal that children migrate to other countries and places far away in marriage, job, business etc and the notion of a single family with grandparents, husband, wife and children living together as a unit is already broken; what remains is the skeleton structure of the edifice. Thus contemporary life has made all of us into refugees irrespective of the status and other amenities, and this play is speaking exactly the same bizarre fact. The revealing of this unpleasant reality may be emotionally shocking and at the same time a purgative action. Thus the play reflects the contemporary society and the possible audience.
- This argument is reinforced by the parallels between Nora in Ibsen’s Dolls house and Janaki. Towards the end in both the plays, the wife talks directly into the face of the husband for the first time in her life, and then dare to break out of the marital bondage to ascertain their freedom. In both the plays the husbands are shocked and plead their wives to return to the warmth and safety of the home, which the woman denies and walks out.
- There is an influence of Ibsen in the narrative structure of the writing also. It is the mode of reflective introspection between the characters that reveal the past story. The play opens somewhere near the climax, and the reader comes to know about the past incidents slowly from references and hints in the dialogues as the play progresses.
- The characters in the play are depicted as typical caricatures. But to communicate the depth of the situation and its gravity, the actor has to carry the characters beyond caricaturing and that is going to be the challenge for the actor.
- The setting and atmosphere is more important than the characters in communicating the feel and meaning of the play. The rural railway station, the cement benches, the tree with flowers, the ground with a spread of fallen flowers, the lamp post, the darkness surrounding, the moonlight filtering, possibility of a fence of cactus etc enhance the significance to the whole enactment.
- The play should break away from the proscenium structure. One option is that the group of refugees can occupy the main acting area and the characters can be amidst the audience and can act from there. An open area under a tree with minimum or no walls in the set (that are on the tumble) may be the best space for the enactment). Breaking of the walls is the working idea behind this performance.
- The place is almost dark except the moonlight. The characters have the tendency to merge into the darkness than the pool of light.
The discussion and analysis was productive with the students/participants coming with valid observations and comments. Hope these may influence and reflect in the production. We will do the breaking up of the text into units and then endeavor the discussion further, along with improvisation which is another mode to discuss, relate and reinvent. Also we have to invent exercises that can prepare the acting pattern for this play.
*G. Sankara Pillai is the author many plays that include Bharathavakyam, Amalanmar, Karutha Daivathe Thedi, Poojamuri, Bheema Ghatolgacham Bommayattom, Snehadoothan, Nidhiyum Neethiyum, Bendi, Anayum Kurudanmarum, Rekshapurushan, Moodhevi Theyyam, Thirumpi Vanthan Thampi, Avatharanam Bhranthalayam, Thavalam, Sabarmathi Dooreyanu, Oru Kootam Urumbukal, Kasmiyude Cherippu, Subhantham, Aasthana Viddikal, Kizhavanum Kazhuthayum, Deepam Deepam, Moonnu Pandithanmaarum Parethanaya Simhavum, Kazhukanmar etc…