A play for our times: Sasidharan's ‘Higuita’ wins praise at Kerala Theatre Fest

The play, based on NS Madhavan’s story, was originally performed more than two decades ago, and re-adapted at ITFOK to suit the current times.
A play for our times: Sasidharan's ‘Higuita’ wins praise at Kerala Theatre Fest
A play for our times: Sasidharan's ‘Higuita’ wins praise at Kerala Theatre Fest
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Back then, it was a much smaller ground. And on the ground were just eight people putting up a play that needed a lot more men and women. 22 years later, the ground has become much larger, the people many more, but the soul of the play remains the same, centered around the same idea. The director of the play Sasidharan Naduvil will tell you that it is about the square boxes that people shut themselves in: ‘my life, my family’, oblivious to what happens outside of it, of rape and abuse and killing and the death of peace. He lets the narrator of his play Higuita, named after the famous football player, say the lines at the end, standing in the middle of the pitch.

The Palace Ground opposite the Thrissur Regional Theatre became the venue for the re-adapted Higuita, staged again for the International Theatre Festival of Kerala, by Remembrance Theatre. For hours, men, women and children stood in a queue to come and watch the play, which was once staged by the alumni of Irinjalakuda’s Christ College. Only two of the original actors were in this second edition. NS Madhavan, on whose short story the play is based, was reluctant to have it performed in these times, Sasidharan says. 

“He said, at first, not to do the play now. I had to plead with him, but he was happy with the script after all the changes were made. The original half hour play we performed more than two decades ago, became one and a half hours long," he shares.

A scene from the play

The play is obviously rooted in football, but mostly as a metaphor. Its protagonist Gee Varghese was a football player in his youth, and a fan of Rene Higuita, the Columbian goal-keeper who famously kicked his way around the field to the other end and scored a goal for his team.

Higuita begins with an older Gee Varghese, who is a priest at a church in South Delhi, reminiscing about his younger days. It shows the easy joys that come to villages when there is a game won or a perunnal (festival) happening, and the life changing decisions that a death could bring. His father’s death makes Gee Varghese, a star player, give up the game and become a priest. In the present, Fr Gee Varghese is faced with a new dilemma – brought on by a young tribal girl called Lucy, who is being stalked by a villainous man called Jabbar, and is in danger of being sold. Gee Varghese at first seems reluctant to get out and save the girl. Sasidharan says, “That’s because he too gets stuck inside a square box – a penalty box (he uses a football allegory) – as a priest who has his limits. It is when he breaks these restrictions that he becomes Higuita.”

Character called Lucy in 'Higuita'

Higuita, the legend, too, appears in the play as a distant dark figure in Gee Varghese’s imagination. Sasidharan’s words equate Higuita to power, strength, hope and more. He wants to reiterate that it is not just one Jabbar we have in this world, there could be an Antony or a Santosh just as bad. “That’s just a name. What’s important is the issue, there is just so much of abuse of women today,” he says sadly. The last words that his narrator comes to the middle of the ground to say are so powerful that you relate it to everything that’s wrong in this world. He doesn’t spell out what’s wrong when he asks, “Are you going to stay inside your square boxes when the country is burning?”

Sasidharan Naduvil (third from left) and team

Even as he articulated such strong expressions onstage, and even as hundreds stood spellbound by it at the Palace Ground, Sasidharan turns sad when he speaks of the acceptance of a theatre man. “We are not taken seriously. People scoff and write us off as just a naadakakaaran (theatre person).” It feels sadder to hear this, coming as it does from a man who has been in the field for more than four decades, who has brought many honours to the cultural world of Kerala. 

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