A poignant tribute to her father: Suhasini Maniratnam's new theatrical venture

The play will debut at the Gollapudi Srinivas National awards ceremony.
A poignant tribute to her father: Suhasini Maniratnam's new theatrical venture
A poignant tribute to her father: Suhasini Maniratnam's new theatrical venture

Suhasini Maniratnam is a firebrand - acting opportunities come and go, but her joie de vivre stays. With the same enthusiasm and chirpiness as her younger self, the importance of nurturing good talent has driven her to produce, direct and actively look out for actors and writers with a spark. 

At the Gollapudi Srinivas Awards on Friday, she’s all set to don the director’s hat in Chennai’s theatre scene for her play "I'm an actor, your honour". While she’s not new to the medium, Suhasini definitely brings in a fresh way of performing theatre. 

Based on her lawyer father Charu Hasan’s book ‘Thinking on my Feet’, a collection of four cases that Suhasini’s father had encountered during his profession, the narrative revolves around a father-daughter conversation. “His legal life is borrowed from his book and his real life, from well, memory.

He’s a very different man - an atheist and secularist who never believed in materialism. I look at him more as a character here than as a father,” Suhasini explains. 

The play will have Y Gee Mahendra, Madhuvanthi Arun, Prasanna, VJ Ramya and Thalaivasal Vijay, among other actors, essaying important characters.

In the play, the slew of events in her father’s life, dating from when he was a child, unfold when Suhasini, the character, asks her 86-year-old father if he would consider extending his life.

It’s memory lane after that and the narrative focuses on central events instead of the mundane.

“An instance - in 2012, we were all taking a decision on whether we should go ahead with his bypass surgery,” she says. The nuance of this moment frozen in time and brought to life in the story makes the essence of Suhasini’s play. 

What sets the play apart however, is the life it takes when multiple media are involved. Suhasini has craftily woven in her expertise with cinema.

“All his memories have been shot in film and we have 5 people playing him through visuals.

We’re also blending in illustrations, apart from film,” she says. Sequences for the play were shot entirely in green screen because Suhasini wanted consistency in her father’s character.

No props here - the backdrop is all illustration – and took a back-breaking three months of work to create.

“We are professionals so we do know our media well. Now I depend on the spontaneity of the two actors," Suhasini says.

She also wants film actors to come together for theatre - to build a talent pool in both media and popularise theatre. “I think it’ll be lovely if film actors come to theatre.

While in theatre, we are struggling to create an audience, the film fraternity coming together will ensure that the audience is already there.

Y Gee Mahendra and SV Shekhar create their own plays, an arduous process in itself.

The writers carry the weight here and the actors focus on what they do best - acting. We can make sure they stay within character and not have to actively entertain with a punchline," says Suhasini.

Essentially, the story is king. 

The play is a wonderful tribute to the art of characterisation - focusing on personalities and their responses to events in the play instead of riding on just the story.

But Suhasini knows her limitations. "You cannot attempt to pull off a play with just two people unless you are so sure of the turn of events.

I know my father so well, it's a cakewalk for me," she says. Mildly panting, she makes her way to the venue where her actors are ready and waiting.

She chuckles and politely explains that she has little time. "I'm always rehearsing!” Suhasini concludes, clearly displaying her love and passion for an art form that needs all the patrons that it can get to flourish.

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