A set of plays that received a good reception a few years ago is back on the theatre circuit in a new avatar. For those who had watched the Tamil play Nagercoil Expressum Nadaga Companyum (NENC) a few years ago, what awaits is a dash of nostalgia with some new elements added.
In a freewheeling chat with TNM, Vinodhini Vaidyanathan, NENC’s director, and stand-up comedian Alexander Babu share their experiences of revamping the play and bringing it back to the stage.
As such, NENC is not a new project. Playwright and actor Vinodhini Vaidyanathan wrote Nadaga Company in 2015 for The Hindu Theatre Fest. Nagercoil Express was written even before that. Both these plays were performed in 2016-17. However, as the play couldn’t get the backing of a producer, Vinodhini had to wind it up and focus on other projects.
A revamped version
So what makes it different now?
“I have made both the plays longer. I have made it more musical and there is also an increase in the therukoothu elements in Nadaga Company this time around,” explains Vinodhini. She also adds that it was therukoothu veteran Akkur Ezhumalai Ayya who taught the group the adavus and movements of the craft, thus making the play more colourful and enjoyable.
Meanwhile, a few members of the original group built their own identity and fan base in the stand-up comedy realm. So it was time to dust the script and revamp it. Alexander Babu, whose stand-up show Alex in Wonderland became a huge hit, nudged Vinodhini to consider bringing the play back.
“Three years ago, none of us had the reach that we have today. When my Wonderland show picked up pace, I wanted to take this play up again and hence reached out to Vinodhini. The aim was to reach out to the Wonderland audience and tell them that if they liked Wonderland, this is the ‘nadagam’… the real Tamil theatre that will give a similar experience,” Alex tells TNM. Alex was also a part of the earlier version of NENC.
If the earlier versions were shorter with bits and pieces taking potshots at cinema and politics, the current version is longer with a runtime of around 120 minutes and has more angles of satire. “Both plays are in the social satire genre. They are satirical takes on society, state of media, actors, and some politics and religion,” Vinodhini points out.
‘A play must challenge actors’
Coming from the Koothu-p-pattarai theatre movement, Vinodhini is particular when it comes to certain aspects of direction. Trained under Padma Shri Na Muthuswamy, Vinodhini says that every show is an experience in itself and would be different in some aspects when compared with the previous ones, not to mention the effort the art form demands from the actors.
“My basic premise for any play is that actors must be challenged. It is not great for any actor to be doing the same thing over and over again for a long time. Most of my actors have over seven years’ experience in theatre. And my principle is that in a play, all actors must be able to step in and act in any of the roles. I think we have managed to achieve it this time around,” she says.
For Alex, whose early dream was to become an actor, NENC is a fascinating experience. “It is interesting to see how the entire script unfolds and how all of us play our parts. That’s the most fascinating part of the whole process. We have to love it, otherwise we cannot do this,” he says.
Adding that theatre is an instantly rewarding art form, Alex says that performing as a group has its own benefits since the energy and enthusiasm is shared.
Ultimate goal is more shows
“Theatre is a niche medium. It has a faithful audience and is not a very popular format. So I’m happy if I can do the maximum possible number of shows. As actors, the focus should be on how many shows we get to do,” Vinodhini says.
Adding that the opportunity to take the play to a larger audience in the current outing is amazing, Vinodhini says, “The economics of it will always be a struggle. I’m not saying it will not change. But I have tried my level best to change it. If it changes in the next 10 years it is fine, but as of now this is the reality.”
NENC premieres on February 20 at The Spotted Hyena in Phoenix Market City, Chennai.