Taramandal: A Review

The Thespian Club’s theatre group Stagecoach took their production out this year with ‘Taramandal’. The play was performed at T.N. Rajaratnam Auditorium in R.A. Puram, on the 25th of October. Two buses were organised for audience from the Institute to get to the venue.

Taramandal’s author, Neel Chaudhuri, based it on the Satyajit Ray short story Patol Babu, Film Star. The play is a set of similar stories, with Patol Da’s narrative interspersed throughout. Patol Da is a fifty-year-old, earnest, enthusiastic actor who’s never had much of a run. Through an everyday tussle with the maid, he discovers that he might have got his first break in the movies – a director wants him to play the role of a pedestrian in her film. Of course he’s very excited, so he plagues Nareshji (a sort of director’s assistant; a good depiction by Pradyot Bharadwaj) incessantly about his role – the character, his tastes, his lines etc. Nareshji’s furtiveness increases the audience’s sense of climax, until Patol Da gets to the set and finds out that his ‘lines’ constitute just a single word – ‘Oh’. This narrative is what holds the rest of the play together and enlivens it. Patol Da’s endearing character was played by Dhananjay Rajendran, and he gave an excellent performance. The audience loved the role of the awkward, unwittingly funny old man.

The other stories interwoven with the connecting story are those of struggling actors, all of them going through experiences Patol Da could have, all of them craving recognition and all of them, very, very ambitious.  But they face disillusionment and disapproval and have to make tough choices to get where they want to. It is significant that there is no really successful character throughout the play. There is a feeling of an unfinished story, a sadness running throughout their different tales. But this never descends into bitterness – amidst all the ambition, there is hope too. Thus we have Madhav (by Sahil Mathur), the schoolboy auditioning for a Beatles musical, with his indomitable enthusiasm. There are Reba (Aditi Aggarwal) and Sanjeev (Mukesh Manjunath), young and hopeful, caught between careers and each other. There is Vicky (Digvijay Mahra), who wanted to ‘stand apart from the crowd’, but couldn’t, so joined it  his advice also to other similarly unexceptional souls. And there is Devika (Amrithavarshini Venkatesh), the ‘face of Omniphone for eight years’, who is now upstaged by a new photographer (Mario, played by Pradyot) who wants only her hands shot. Also acting in this scene was Krupa Varghese, who played the role of the make-up assistant. (This was an extremely funny act  all the actors were at their best, and the lines flowed smoothly.)

A special mention must be made of Vedant Agrawal’s soliloquy as Dushyant. A character everyone could relate to, Dushyant has dreams of acting but also has well-meaning parents who want him to grow up to be ‘Doctor Man’  a species above the rest  and don’t think actors amount to much. Vedant gives a splendid performance, switching from the keen kid he was, to his autocratic parent and the beat but still hopeful adult he grows into. This piece also had many light-hearted insider references to members of the cast and crew.

While ‘Taramandal’ was a nice play overall, it was good only inconsistently. The dialogues require powerful acting to lend them colour, and this is beyond the scope of a student-led production, whose cast, while competent, is only now feeling its way toward semi-professional theatre.

Stagecoach this year was produced by Crea-Shakthi, ‘a theatre group committed to the cause of taking the craft­ to the next generation … with special attention to the city’s college talent’. Why did they decide to ticket their performance this time? The director, Mukesh Manjunath, says that it was “primarily to introduce Stagecoach to the Chennai theatre scene,” and “we are a budding theatre group taking our first few steps towards being a semi-professional theatre group and maybe a professional group sometime in the future. So to guide us through, we had Crea-Shakthi helping us in the last two years. It was a purely business decision on their part to price tickets.” Crea-Shakthi helped only with the technical aspects of the production and had no creative influence whatsoever.

Largely, the audience from IIT did not endorse the decision to price entry, especially at Rs. 150 per head. Given that the auditorium was about as big as CLT, and that the venue, lights and props weren’t exceptional (compared to last year’s play), many among the audience, and the writer herself, were of the opinion that the experience was not commensurate with the pricing.

Photo credits: Manjari Shankar

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