G. Sankara Pillai was one of the most versatile and towering personalities of Indian literature and theatre scene. Belonging to a generation of eminent Malayalam writers he ascended great heights and imbibed the cultures of other regions. A pathfinder and leader of great stature, he was committed to creating bridges between the theatre of the Earth and contemporary sensibility through his writings, theatre direction and teaching. He initiated a new movement in Kerala.
Abhayarthikal (Refugees) is a play written by him 1965, much before the new theatre movement started in Kerala. We are planning to stage this play with the students of Lokadharmi as part of the theatre training. I thought that it will be nice to keep a sort of account about the process of the production. I hope you can expect a series of postings about this process.
I. The Initial Discussion after the first Reading.
The play is set in a village railway station. There is the presence of some north Indian refugees settled nearby and their presence reaches the stage through mostly sounds and songs. The time is night.
The major characters
1. Janaki, a lady in her 30s, the wife of Raghavan and is from a good family. Raghavan had wed a new girl on the insistence of Janaki since she is not able to give birth to a child. She says she is waiting in the darkness of the station waiting for the train.
2. Prabhakaran, a young man who is searching for her ladylove, he feels that she is somewhere near and runs around for her. This man was in lobe with the daughter of the Porter with his silent blessing. But when a better proposal came porter married her daughter off and Prabhakaran lost the balance of his mind.
3. The Old Man who come to the railway station expecting his son who is employed in the army returning. Actually the boy is dead and the old man does not know this. He is waiting and waiting….
These three characters are the sort of refugees as Janaki says; someone can be a refugee even if he had a home or family.
The play knits these three stories into a single entity. These stories are different but are connected to one another through the feel of helplessness and the silent expectation of a train that may change the course of events.
There are other characters also who waits for the train that includes,
1. The bridegroom, soon after his marriage, who has to travel with his wife and party in the train to a new life, and he too needs the train to come.
2. The Leader waits for the train with flowers so that he can garland his leader who travels by that train. It is his duty to pay respect and regard when his leader and mentor pass through his village.
3. Arishtam Kittan, the illicit liquor peddler, with country liquor filled in a cycle tube and is take little rest at one of the station benches.
It seems that equally important is the refugees who actually do not appear on stage and the inner relationship with the characters on stage, is intended in the play.
The three plots interwoven can give rise to three different plays with a lot of melodrama and sentiments filled in. the characters are the usual and expected ones in a play written in 1960.s in Malayalam. We may encounter the same characters and similar situations in many plays. But the play depicts the social situation and concerns of the Kerala society of that period. We can observe the elements of a modernist perspective in the whole arrangement and structure of the play even if it looks so realistic in nature and the characters are at times caricatures.