In times of pseudo nationalism, Malayalam play calls for concept of global citizen

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New Delhi, April 13 (IANS) “Nona”, a Malyalam play set against the backdrop of today’s social stratification and pseudo-nationalism, has been nominated for six awards at the 13th edition of Mahindra Excellence in Theatre Awards (META). Its director Jino Joseph, himself nominated in four categories, says that pseudo nationalism and fascism are prominent issues in contemporary India and underlined that his production calls for the concept of a global citizen.

“Nationalism cannot be limited in an anthem or the borders. At the end of the play, the mother and younger brother of the central character Prasanthan wipe off the map of India that is drawn on their courtyard, symbolically eliminating the borders. The applause that this particular scene received (at a previous presentation) is a clear indication of the mindset of people towards the borders that divide people.

“Human beings are beyond the limits that the geographic and religious borders offer. The play calls for the concept of a global citizen and stresses that borders should be removed,” Joseph, who has worked in nearly 30 productions and scripted and directed two documentaries, three fiction films and a feature film, told IANS in an interview.

Joseph has been nominated for Best Director, Best Stage Design, Best Original Script and Best Choreography at the 13th edition of META that kicks off Friday. His play “Matthi” had won the Kerala Sahitya Akademi Award in 2015.

“My production process is often improvisational. It may take two months or more. Pseudo nationalism and fascism are prominent issues that contemporary India faces. The contemporary relevance of this predicament deserves a much reachable and reliable setting so as to have long-lasting impact on spectators. An issue of contemporary relevance was selected and then (we) decided to set it against the backdrop of a village,” Joseph elaborated.

Joseph admitted he has no academic background in theatre. He belongs to an agricultural family and nobody from his family or neighbourhood was ever interested in theatre. He grew up watching professional dramas staged in churches and temples.

“I would say that those plays were my primary source of inspiration. Ashokan Kathirur, a regional theatre activist who made experimental plays with common people, is my mentor. I had my first theatrical experiences assisting him. He is no more. I started with directing short plays for school children. The exposure that I now have is still a mystery,” he maintained.

In the context of God’s Own Country, the state of Kerala where he lives and practises theatre, Joseph said that it is witnessing a rising trend in theatre and highlighted that more productions are being launched today in Kerala than ever before.

“People are more driven towards theatre. It is growing. But theatre has to be given more prominence. Like other art forms such as film and music, theatre should also turn into a profession of dignity, a career and livelihood. It should have equal status. For that the government should take the initiative to inspire people. Ticketed shows of dramas are gaining popularity these days,” opined Joseph, who holds a MA in Communication and Journalism from Kannur University.

In the two-hour-long “Nona”, a bunch of amateurs from rural India collaborate to assert their right to voice opinions through the power of theatre while exploring contemporary social issues.

In this regard, Joseph said theatre has always been a medium of protest, campaign and struggle. “It directly communicates with the people. A single play is more powerful and far-reaching than a thousand processions. Theatre has played a crucial role in the socio-political and religious changes that happened in Kerala. The state was always politically strong and several significant plays which are anti-feudalistic (in their themes) have paved way for many socio-political movements,” he said.

“Nona” will be staged live in Delhi’s Kamani Auditorium on Monday, April 16.

The Mahindra Excellence in Theatre Awards, now in its 13th year, has created a benchmark for applauding the finest in theatre. It was instituted by the Mahindra Group with the objective of becoming a significant platform for celebrating this art. The yearly awards recognise theatre’s varied elements like playwriting, set, costume and light designing, direction and performance. Over the years, META has succeeded in setting a stage that represents the diverse interpretations of this art form as understood in various regions of the country.

(Saket Suman can be contacted at [email protected] <mailto:[email protected]>)



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