Kaalinaatakam (The Play of Kaali) is a political statement, more than a brilliantly executed play.
Considering the content of the play, which is heavily loaded with gender and caste politics, it’s surprising that it went on to impress the audience that gathered at the courtyard of Pepper House at Fort Kochi for three days starting Aug. 19. No one seemed to leave the space with simmering anger, but only awed by the spectacle written by Sajitha Madathil and directed by Chandradasan.
And what a spectacle it was! The floor was set all aglow by the visual language that Chandradasan created along with excellent lighting by Sreekanth Cameo. Ritualistic theatre blended with realistic theatre to magnificent impact. This visual was lifted to another level by Paris Chandran’s mesmerizing music and some best onstage performances by Sajitha, Resmi Satheesh, Zumesh Chittooran and Selvaraj.
But was it the play by theatre group Lokadharmi all about? Not really.
Kaalinaatakam demands the audience not to empathise with Kaali, the woman, or Kaali, the Goddess. It demands the viewer to realise the circumstances that created both and respond.
As a playwright, Sajitha has done an exceptional job, weaving contemporary realities into the narrative text of the play. This is not just about Kaalinaatakam being staged at Valiyanoor Kavu after 51 years. It enquires why it was stopped then and why it is being staged now.
The play says that Kaalinaatakam was stopped because the actor playing Kaali, the Goddess, killed the actor playing Darika, the Demon. But the same repeats when the ritual is revived. Kali, daughter of Chathan and Kunki, plays the Goddess now and she kills Rama Kurup, who dons the part of Darika. Somewhere else, the play says that Kali has been leading an agitation against Rama Kurup alleging him of sexual abuse and murder of a girl.
This repetition of incidents and most importantly, the recurring motif of murder synchronises with the repetition of names. Kali, the protestor, becomes Kali the Goddess. Rama Kurup, the Darika, is accused of killing Neeli. As Kali becomes Goddess, another Neeli becomes Kooli, the Goddess’ sidekick. And finally, Neeli, who is now the Kooli, has a history of being abused repeatedly by men. It is a vicious cycle in which the woman is forever trapped.
“Neeli and Kaali repeat through our times – as Jisha, Abhaya, the Suryanelli girl and as nameless many others,” said Sajitha, as she talked about the play after the third show.
Another narrative woven into the text is that of caste inequality. When challenged by a woman, Darika who has become overconfident by the cover of boon for invincibility, bares his contempt and insults her as a low-born.
A woman born in a lower caste gets empowered to challenge and terminate the arrogant male, intoxicated by power – but once the role is fulfilled, the system conspires to contain her anger. From one end, the police try to bring Kali, the actor, to the laws of the land, and from the other end, Neelkanta Sastri, the astrologer, calculates the divine logic and finds a date to build a temple and contain the anger of Goddess. The unbridled anger of a woman, be it as Goddess or a human, is too much for the society to handle and it has to be contained.
This is where, Neeli (Kooli) asked Kaali not to simmer down her anger.
“If you do not kill in this anger, then when are you going to do it?” asks Kooli in the play. Together, Kali and Kooli decide to break the system’s grand design to contain their anger in a temple. “They decide where to seat us; let’s decide whether to sit there or not…” is the sign-off dialogue.
This is the anger that Kaali and Kooli should pass on to the audience as they walk through their middle. The anger of woman subjected to repeated torture and her hope in the sword. Kali gains more power from the power of this metal as her anger rises when society thrusts dead cold metal through bodies of hapless women. Kali cannot contain her anger as she leaves her pedestal and enters the crowd.
But the question is: are we ready to face the angry Kaali? Or will we continue to remain awed by the spectacle of Kaali?
(Photos by Anand Haridas)