Malayalam play on Lakshadweep row finds a unique stage: Clubhouse

Director of the play ‘Lakshadweepam’ Hazim Amaravila speaks of the possibilities and challenges of the platform.
Lakshadweepam poster
Lakshadweepam poster
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There is a television discussion going on, the topic is Lakshadweep. Arnesh is the host and Sumeshji, a ‘Dweep observer’, is also part of the show. As they talk, however, two strange voices somehow seep into the discussion. The connection has gone haywire and you hear these two voices of fishermen in Lakshadweep talk in misery about what’s going on in their homeland. Two worried, scared voices amid angry sea waves. When the voices are finally cut, Arnesh assures Sumeshji that there shall be no more of such voices in their show.

You don’t, however, see any of these participants or fishermen, except as icons on a phone screen. They are the characters of a first-of-its-kind drama hosted on Clubhouse by Kanal Samskarika Vedi, a Kerala-based group of theatre persons. Directing the drama Lakshadeepam is Hazim Amaravila, who also played the role of a programme producer in it.

“For more than a year now, we have not been able to have any theatre performances. We have also wanted to react to the Lakshadweep issue as artistes. That’s when the Clubhouse app became available on the android platform and we didn’t wait. Straightaway, I scripted the play on the Lakshadweep issue and we had our first performance on Sunday,” says Hazim.

That first performance on May 30 was only days after Clubhouse launched on android in India. The five actors of the play changed their profile pictures to display their character names.

“It is like a radio drama but also interactive. So in the first few minutes, we used the interactive nature of the platform to reject voices from the audience and say that only those who agreed with the channel’s view will be given space,” Hazim says.

Screenshot of the drama on Clubhouse

Kannan Nayar and Santhosh played the two fishermen Salim and Ahammed respectively whose voices interrupt the channel's show. Amal played Arnesh, an obvious caricature of a right-wing channel founder, and Anand played Sumeshji.

“There is that lack of give-and-take that you get on a stage when you see each other and then perhaps improvise. But here you don’t know when to start or finish such improvisations without seeing the other actors,” Hazim says of the challenges they faced. There was also a technical glitch during the May 30 performance.

After that first show, they got some feedback that they tried to work on – such as the absence of a woman’s voice. On Wednesday, when they had another show, they included the recorded voice of Advocate Faseela Ibrahim from Lakshadweep speaking about the police reaching her house and asking for details since she had been so vocal about the issue.

Sajitha Madathil, theatre and film actor, who witnessed the first show, said that she was quite happy that Kanal had thought of such a medium to perform a play. “We have heard radio dramas before but here, there are more possibilities. I am thankful that Kanal became one of the pioneers for hosting a drama on Clubhouse. Regarding Lakshadweep, I have not seen such nice, accommodating people anywhere else. When we went to Lakshadweep, as outsiders we had to sign at the police station everyday but they would have no work because there are hardly any crimes happening there – there’d be one or two small cases a month. It is painful to hear all that’s said about these islanders and what they are going through now. It is very important that we support them like this as artistes from Kerala,” Sajitha said during the discussion after the play.

Hazim believes it is the first Malayalam drama on Clubhouse but there is no way to confirm this. He has been busy with improvising the script after the live feedback for each show. “During one show, we got booed at and I was happy that we could have all sorts of responses like in a stage show; that all voices would get space,” he says.

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