A clash of cultures
At the core of this insightful play are statements on feminism and an exploration of how a way of life struggles to survive in the face of modernity
Kaveri sets out her bronze vessels on a wheeled wooden table, complete with a blue tablecloth, and proceeds to chop up onions and garlic. She makes Pandi curry — the mouthwatering Kodava speciality — right on stage. Before you start salivating, please remember: this is a play, so all ingredients and actions are mime, but you definitely get the taste of it.
An adaptation of Singaporean playwright Stella Kon’s Emily of Emerald Hill, Kaveri of Kittale Villa by Laxmi Chandrashekar — in a solo performance — is the story of a girl-woman-matriarch, who will alternately charm you and irritate you with her bossiness. The core of the play is feminist — a strong statement of how a woman who has given her all gets very little in return from her family, not even respect. All of the play, however, is graciously feminine, set amidst the small tyrannies of women in an earlier era.
You empathise with the little girl, orphaned at 10 after losing her laughing father and being abandoned by her mother, and married to a man twice her age at 14. She enters a typical Westernised and rich Kodava house, complete with domestic politics, a father-in-law who has horses running in the races, a mother-in-law who plays cards and co-sisters, each with their own servants. She starts off subservient to all of them and ends up with iron control over every little thing in the house, from medicines for her co-sister’s child to ensuring that every dish in the house is cooked to her exact specifications.
Kaveri’s hobbies are charity and a patchwork quilt, both of which are metaphors for the state of mind and the state of the life of the girl-woman-matriarch. She sits together, sews her memories into a patchwork quilt, sews her emotions and imposes her will to give it form. Laxmi pulls it off very neatly, giving the character a clear definition and precision, a decided joie de vivre, an acceptance of her lot and the strength to bear it, all of which remain right up to the old lady’s end.
“I had to research Kodava customs and traditions endlessly. My Kodava friends Lallu (Lalita Ganapathy), Boviranda Nanjamma and Dr Jaya helped me get the nuances right. The script itself took six months to prepare,” says Chandrashekar, whose Kodava accent is as effortless as the North Karnataka twang that she had pulled off in her other one-woman show, Singaravva Mattu Aramane.
The original play is set in the culture of the Peranakan community, who are Chinese from Hong Kong Strait, who are settled in Singapore. It is said to be as distinct to mainstream Singapore living as the Kodava culture to this state. “I adapted the play to Kannada and then translated it back into English, rather than use the original English play,” Chandrashekar explains.
The highlight of the play is the way a charming old culture is captured in its entirety. The peeling paint on the pillars of the verandah in the Kittale Villa — a house called Oberon (the fairy king in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream) in the original — and the traffic running along the lawn where the brass band used to play are strong metaphors for the decaying end of an almost fairytale era.
Sets and props by Keshavmurthy and team are painstakingly detailed, while the constant projection of various elements including all the dead people who take over the place of honour on the mantelpiece and the way locations shift through photos, is innovative. Design and direction by Pramod Shiggaon and Soumya Verma respectively, make this show a very attractive, nostalgic and intelligent production.
Kaveri of Kittale Villa Original: Emily of Emerald Hill by Stella Kon Adaptation and solo performance: Laxmi Chandrashekar Direction:Soumya Verma Design: Pramod Shiggaon Music and sound effects: Gajanana T Naik Projection: Chandrakeerti Production: Kriyative TheatreSynopsis: Performed for the second time in English, this is the story of a woman and the story of a culture intertwined inexorably, moving from youth to maturity to old age to an end. Kaveri is a woman and a metaphor for a gracious style of living and a firm kind of thought both of which have no place in the modern, materialistic world. Venue: Ranga Shankara When: April 26, 3.30 and 7.30 pm Tickets: bookmyshow.com, indianstage.com