The Great Malayalee Tragicomdey: Naduvil’s Marameedan

Amateur Malayalee theatre group takes to the stage with Marmeedan, a political satire inspired by Bharathendu Harishchandra’s Andher Nagari

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A passionate team of 13-odd Malaylee amateur actors, a few local musicians that could sing as well as play traditional Eastern musical instruments, a handful of volunteers who were ready to lend a hand for anything. These were the resources that Sasidharan Naduvil, the internationally acclaimed director and playwright, was provided with by the Sydney Malayalee community when he arrived in mid-August. With these, he developed the dream of a play, Marameedan (The Masked Performer), a tragicomedy political satire.

Team Marameedan
Team Marameedan

The best part all: it took but a month and a half, including two shows at Casula Powerhouse, one of which was sold-out. 

The Malayalee actors were chosen from a paid theatre workshop. Naduvil told Indian Link, “Instead of casting the actors into a preset script, I redid the original script of Marameedan, incorporating elements from four different books. The theme of the play is about how people who question the wrongdoings of the authoritative powers get penalised, which unfortunately is the case even in this 21st century. Once the theme was set, the characters were developed after observing the body languages and mannerisms that the chosen actors could bring to the space.”

Metaphors and symbolism

The basic plot was adopted from a book published more than a century ago which has stood the test of time – Andher Nagar by Bharathendu Harishchandra. Added to this were elements from various from other books like Maranakkali (Kannada), Marameedan (Malayalee) and Govardhanante Yathrakal (Malayalee).

The plot is about a thief dying due to a wall collapsing on him while trying to steal from a house. 

The thief’s family seeks justice from the king. A judicial commission is appointed, which rules that the tornado caused the wall to collapse, amidst reflection that perhaps the udhandamesthri (builder) must take the blame. (The shrewd builder talks his way out of the problem).

Remorse for the dead
Remorse for the dead

Observer Govardha, who dreams about a world that is devoid of cunning middlemen, malicious rulers and crooked thieves, questions the court’s findings, and gets labelled a traitor.

The production laid bare the fine balance between the perceptions of justice and injustice. And how middlemen escape the noose of law by throwing money around and skewing the serving of justice.

It provided much food for thought. Roshni Ann Mathew, an audience member, said, “Many atrocities that I have observed and experienced flashed in my mind while watching the play. There was a moral anger that the play aroused; it really surprised me how much of an influence the play had on me!”

A scapegoat of the wrongdoings?
A scapegoat of the wrongdoings?

The play, performed under the banner of Art Collective Inc., whilst talking about grave issues, skilfully integrated various genres of comedy throughout – ranging from dark comedy to observational comedy to slapstick humour. Symbolism played a huge role as well – a great instance was how each member of the judicial commission came over with a red carpet, spread those on the stage, and only walked about on those.

Technical aspects impressed just as much. Original sound was used without microphones, and music was live on stage – the music pit was part of the play, and musicians sang along with the actors through the play. It was crafted partly in the form of a dance drama where rhythmic folk music, lyrical songs in multiple languages and nifty footwork were all used to narrate the story, in place of words. The props were created by a supporting team of volunteers, and the costumes were stitched onsite too.

Nito George who assisted Naduvil with the light designing, described the state-of-the-art techniques. “Lighting specific to theatre performance was used – profile, spot and Fresnel lights. We worked for days with the lighting technicians in the facility to bring out the desired effect, which was very well received by the audience too”.

Lighting effect in play
Lighting effect in play

Having myself acted under the direction of Naduvil, it was a pleasant surprise for me when I got a chance to work with him again after a decade. What I witnessed here was his transformation of a set of non-seasoned yet keen Sydneysiders into refined actors. And weaving all those six elements of theatre – theme, plot, characters, language, music and spectacle – to create the magic of a theatrical performance.

Equally impressive was the wealth of talent amongst the rest of the team who constantly surprised with their dedication. The passion and creativity that brought the artists together kept the spirit alive; to continuously engage in split as well as team rehearsals. As young families joined in at the rehearsal sessions, a large group was created organically.

Beyond the four walls of the stage, it is this collegiality and warmth of friendship that truly brought Marameedan to life in this Malayalee play.

Picture Courtesy: Siyamol Pappachan, Avinash PV