'Veendum Bhagawante Maranam': A Malayalam play on a rationalist meeting his killer

The drama is an adaptation of KR Meera’s story which is on Bhagawan, a rationalist whose life is under threat and is visited by a man who wants to kill him.
'Veendum Bhagawante Maranam': A Malayalam play on a rationalist meeting his killer
'Veendum Bhagawante Maranam': A Malayalam play on a rationalist meeting his killer
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The play was coming to an end when suddenly some of the actors, playing policemen, asked everyone to leave the auditorium. The audience looked confused, unsure if it was part of the play or if they were really being asked to leave. When finally everyone got out, there was more of the play to be watched outside, the last scenes. And then later, on another side of the building, all the artistes bowed to the audience, and the playwright introduced the actors.

KS Bhagawan, rationalist and writer whose life is under threat, was among the audience when it was staged in Mysuru. It is on him that the Malayalam play is based, a story that Kerala writer KR Meera wrote – Veendum Bhagawante Maranam (Bhagawan dies again). At half time, the policemen accompanying Bhagawan said that he should leave, but he wouldn’t go. He watched the entire play and hugged each of the artistes before leaving. 

“He had translated KR Meera’s story into Kannada (after reading the English version), so he knew what it was about. When we invited him to come for the show which was at a venue near his place, he said he will try. Since his life is under threat, he is not to go out after 6 in the evening. But even then, he came, surprising all of us,” says Hazim Amaravila, director of the play, nearly a month after the happy event.

Hazim had to answer many questions about his unique 100-minute play. But he didn’t, like the playwright within the play, have to face a ban or an attack or ostracism. “We are in Kerala, right, nothing’s gone wrong so far,” says the young playwright, who finished his M. Phil in Theatre Arts nine years ago from Kerala University. The lead actor of the play – Kannan Nayar – was his classmate and one of the lead characters of all the major plays he has directed – Jean Paul Sartre’s The Wall and Narendra Prasad’s Swarna Simhasanam, among them.

The idea for Veendum Bhagawante Maranam came in bits and parts to Hazim, first after reading KR Meera’s story by the same name, and then hearing more and more of the government restrictions on the people, what to write, what to eat, what to wear. “I thought I could connect it all and make it about a play that’s getting censored by the authorities,” Hazim says.

A scene from Veendum Bhagawante Maranam

In the story, a man called Amara comes to take Bhagawan’s life but fails when a shelf of books falls on him and he is laid up with a cast on his leg at the house of the man he tried to kill. Amara listens to the conversations Bhagawan has with his students, his perceptions change, he questions the ideas that were fed into his head by certain forces. When Hazim puts up the story on the stage, as a play within the play, we also see a romance that’s now in Amara’s past –  Amara chasing a woman of lower caste to hurt her, but ending up falling in love with her.

In the play, we also see dual personalities for every character – one, as the actors they play, and one, the roles they do in the play within the play. “Even this was done in a way that matches each actor’s taste. We had a brainstorming session to decide who would play what character. Like it is shown in the play, Amal wants to do main characters, Akhil is a believer but in the play he is a little more fanatic about his beliefs, Arun chettan who supports him in the play also believes in a super power in real life. Sreenath works on the lights and Santosh Venjaramoodu plays the playwright,” Hazim says.

There are two women characters in the play – one is to be the heroine in the play within the play, and the other, a side role. The latter complains that it is because of the colour of her skin that the other woman gets preference. Hazim says, “That is how it is even in the movies. We have shown society’s prejudices as such.” 

Reju plays another character who laments about not getting to do lead roles like he desires because of his short height, and who chooses to be a stage manager so he would always be connected to theatre. The actor playing this role has never made such a complaint, Hazim says, but it fits.

The play has had 11 stages so far across Kerala, in Assam and then in Karnataka. Hazim holds the Mysuru one most special, showing the photos of Bhagawan standing close to all of them.

Another special show was during the August floods last year, when they raised through performances of the play, Rs 50,000 for the CM’s fund. The next performance is on Sunday at the JT Pac Hall in Kochi, at 6.30 pm. They are also booked for four shows in April already.

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