Mazhavillu the children’s theatre wing of Lokadharmi premiered its new play titled ‘The Girl in the Photograph’, written and directed by Shirly Somasundaran.
The girl is Kim Phuc, the little nine year old, running naked down a road, screaming in agony from the jellied gasoline coating her body and burning through skin and muscle down the bone, running through the burning streets of Vietnam.
And the photographer is Nick Ut who won the Pulitzer Prize for capturing the collective conscience of the whole world against the brutality of war, through this single picture, – the one photograph that captured the horrific nature of Vietnam War.
Her village in the Central Highlands of Vietnam was napalmed that day in 1972. It would take many years, and 17 operations to save her life. And when she finally felt well enough to put it behind her, that very photograph would make her a victim, all over again.
This play in Malayalam, enacted by 25 children, narrates the story of agony and survival, pays a floral tribute to the war victims, and sends out a strong message that the prey of war is always the children,- the next generation. The play was also about John Plummer who dropped the bomb and about the trauma and guilt-feel he undergoes.
The end of the play suggests the possibility of sparkling of lights from the stars in the dark sky, a ray of hope when Kim pardons John and they join together to dedicate their life in bringing some illumination in the lives of the war victims, as symbolized by the lit candles, shared by the actors on stage and the audience.
The play in six segments that take place in a pagoda in Vietnam, the mess hall of a military camp in Vietnam, a hospital room, the office room of Plummer, the Class room of Kim, the visiting room of Dr.Lean in USA, is all set in a continuum. All the scenes except the last one take place in Vietnam. The production has tried to represent the locale with suggestive settings, cloths and spreads, and the use of dried bushes indicates the war tone nature.
The cultural characteristics of Vietnam and nature of the backdrop of the story were depicted in a suggestive level, as the priority of the production seemed not on the authenticity or the specificity of the culture, backdrop or the environment; but on the historical facts that were well researched and authentic. At the same time the little fluidity in the depiction of the background, atmosphere, costumes, rituals, properties, music, etc helped to transport the premise into a universally valid experience, beyond time and place of the incident.
The play used the projection of the photograph of Kim which served as the key motif behind, scenes depicting napalm bombing, and a depiction of the famous reply speech of Kim on her selection as the goodwill ambassador of UNESCO. The production is an amalgamation of the facts with fiction and these projections provided the needed link. In the last scene Kim breaks open the screen and comes to John Plummer saying “I am a victim of war, I was a victim of many things, but Life is beautiful”.
The play demanded a lot of emoting and subtlety in acting which the kids did fairly well. They did not drop into the clutches of melodrama, neither into soulless sentimentality, but carried the struggle and feel of the characters inside. Special mention to be made about Aparna as Kim in her war hit days, and Namitha as her mother who excelled with subtlety in performance and carrying the emotional levels quite convincingly and truthfully.
Assosciate director Rema K Nair appended the technical aspects of the play, Music by Aarsha and Aadarsh, Set by Manoosh and Jolly Antony, make-up by Pradeep Chittoor and lighting by me, Chandradasan.
The production was trying to be simple, direct, and matter of fact, devoid of any pretentious stuff and this transparency helped the communication of the basic idea quite successfully.
The performance took place at Changampuzha Park Edapalli, Kochi on 15.05.2008.