22 February, 2014
Bodendral’s life depicted – Drama and Narration merge - Silver Jubilee Celebrations of Mahalakshmi Ladies Drama Group @ NGS Hall
Nama Bodendral was the 59th Pontiff of Sri Kanchi Kamakoti Mutt. His life with all its didactic dimensions was dramatized faithfully, even religiously, by Mahalakshmi Ladies Drama Group (MLDG) at Narada Gana Sabha on 17th of February. The huge hall was full and had in it devotees of this saint who were kept in their reverential mode throughout the event.
It all began with an introduction of MLDG. It was stated that this all-ladies group had staged over 400 plays and had also presented them as 18 different stories all over India. The plays staged by them had as their mission the imparting of socially relevant messages - evils of dowry, overseas migration of families and their attendant problems, the ill-effects of divorce on children and many such. “All actors are amateurs who volunteer their time and effort” in their act(s) of performance.
The story proper started interestingly with a conversation between two “Mami’s.” It was not a mundane conversation but was of a higher plane. One of them wanted to know the way to Govindapuram, a sacred place of worship near Kumbakonam, which happened to be the final abode of Bodendral. Kalaimamani Bombay Gnanam, an eminently known theatre personality, who was in charge of screen play, dialogue and direction, slowly unfolds details about the place and engagingly leads the enquirer to know more about Bodendral, tracing his life from his antecedents. Gnanam who was also a kattiyangaran of sorts, sought to juxtapose the story-telling with enacted scenes and was thus able to sustain the grip on the audience, who were in raptures as the curtains rose and fell. They were with it.
Bodendral’s parents were childless for some years after marriage and the mother is finally blessed to have a son by the grace of the (58th) Acharya of Sri Kanchi Mutt. Stunningly this child, named Purushothaman, is given away to the Mutt, albeit willingly, by their parents and eventually becomes the next pontiff. The reigning 58th Acharya “was able to foresee the great qualities in him”. Purushothaman (Bodendral) was destined to spread RamaNama and become the pioneer of the Bhajana Sampradayam.
The acts of drama and the accompanying narration when read and seen together had before you the trials and tribulations Purushothaman had to undergo before he attains “Brahma-Gnanam”. He travels to Kasi where his Guru had gone on a pilgrimage and enroute even enters into a bond with his bosom friend Gnanasagaran that almost costs him his life. He is blessed with “rebirth” as he has been ordained to satisfy the needs of a whole humanity than of his friend. The vow made unto his friend is breakable in the larger interests of mankind. The various ageing-sequences in Purushothaman’s (Bodendral) life was depicted by means of bringing actors of different ages making effective use of light-effects with a sense of professionalism in their execution. The sets were designed purposefully without much ado.
As this was the last day of the performance, (the shows had been on for four days continuously) perhaps Gnanam thought it fit to make a valedictory address where she thanked those who helped her on- stage and off-stage, the dubbing artistes, those who provided the music scores, the sound engineers, singers who had lent their voices both individually and in chorus, the musicians, those lovely budding dancers who gave a cameo towards the end, the sponsors, Brahma Gana Sabha that had hosted this performance and Narada Gana Sabha for providing the Hall.
This was an all-women play where even the roles of men were donned by women folk of various ages and temperaments. Remarkable!
Another noteworthy element was this - the resorting to the method of a path-breaking synchronization in the delivery of dialogue. The actors never actually uttered a single word while they were on stage. Instead, their miming of words occurred in unison with a taped-version that kept running in the background. They matched word for word, perfectly. And this, as Gnanam rightly pointed out, demanded the understanding and commitment of all the performers. And these were a good 45 odd in number. No mean achievement this!