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Some quick notes on Mr. Jayasankar’s review on ‘Kaliman Vandi’

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by Dr.Sunil Wijesiriwardena

I was puzzled and shocked by the extremely hostile review written by Mr. Jayasankar of the Tamil production of the Mirchakadikam,

I am forwarding here a quick and short response on one or two important issues rose in this article.

i) Main attack on this production by Mr. Jayasankar is based on a certain construction of the concept of Tradition. Let us look briefly at this issue. The popular perception of the arts (or language/ or behavior) tradition to which Mr. Jayasankar also seemed is sticking on, is based on the assumption that it’s a sum of knowledge and skills which travel exclusively through the axis of time, started at some point of origin in past and reaching us in present and going toward future. It’s sometimes perceived through the image of a water flow, a river, but again a flow strictly marked with closed banks

These banks supposed to separate and insulate the referred tradition from others. Thus this particular model of tradition is linked to the idea of purity, where other traditions, mostly are seen as possible polluters. Speaking in anthropological terms what we see here is an extremist position of Cultural Relativism (against Universalism), as we have been observing again and again, is capable to support the vicious kinds of racism. (It has been observed by progressive social anthropologists that both these positions- Universalism and Cultural Relativism- taken to extreme, on their own way become anti-humanist ideologies; Humanist position has to be derived by transcending the extremes.) Sinhala extremists in recent years have produced a huge amount of literature arguing for ‘purity’ of all types of ‘Sinhala Traditions’.

Even in sixties there has been a discourse on Prof. Sarachchcandra’s work , that his work represent the ultimate embodiment of the pure Sinhala Folk theatre tradition. Of course Prof. Sarachchandra never went along with these ideas. He was talking about a Sri Lankan theatre capable of tapping rich regional resources.

In fact his important works such as Maname and Sinhabahu , have strong inter-textual connections with not only some of the South Asian theatre traditions ( including certain Sri Lankan Tamil Folk traditions) but also East Asian ( Beijing Opera, No and Kabuki of Japan etc.) and, yes, even with some stage music traditions of the West Europe (Passion plays of the Christian church) which travelled with Christian missionaries probably from Italy through Goa to South Indian and Sri Lankan coastal areas. So this is a classical example of ‘invention of tradition’ in modern Sri Lanka , if to use the term coined by Eric Hobsbawm.

The model of tradition imagined as one dimensional flow in time axis with closed banks is erroneous and ideologically dangerous ,and is supportive of racism and cultural fundamentalism.

Even if we still stick to the model of a river to illustrate a tradition, we should be able to see this river as a much more complex flow with not just one origin , but with origins, and with banks opened at many places to receive ‘minor/earlier traditions’, which transforms itself into the River.

However even this open river is a too poor model to understand the complex dynamics of a real tradition, because in reality tradition is not one-dimensional flow running through time, as it has a space dimension as well; It is ridiculous to imagine a tradition outside its bearers.

Traditions essentially flow through its bearers, while their lives have both time and space dimensions. This makes the possibility for bearers of traditions, especially for the best of them, to make deep encounters with the bearers of other traditions, which pave way for sharing and enriching their own traditions. Philosophically speaking there are no separate (insulated) traditions in reality, we should see them as inter-traditions in the same way, and we humans are inter-beings who live in an interconnected universe.

ii) It is very clear that Mr. Jayasankar once again is happily ignorant about the real ideological roots of his own attack on the depiction of open-end love relationships between Charudatta, his wife and Vasanthasena.

Although he seems to believe, that he is giving a voice to feminism in his attack, unfortunately it is the historical model of the patriarchal/capitalist nuclear family speaking through him. I don’t think he will be able to find any feminist who would support his ideas of ‘nuclear family fundamentalism’.

Feminists were the first thinkers to offer a methodical criticism on the modern nuclear family and by their comparative study of various historical manifestations of the institution of marriage through history and in culturally diverse locations , paved way for enlightened people to accept an array of diverse types love relationships (including lesbian and gay) in their quest for a more humane, just and contented society.

We know by feminist studies that feelings of sexual jealousy among lovers also are not a ‘natural thing’ but have historical (structural and cultural) reasons behind it. We should understand that feelings, as against emotions, represent very complex socio-spiritual phenomena.

Mr. Jayasankar being trapped in his small idea of ‘love and marriage’ cannot appreciate the relationship of sisterhood being developed between Vasanthasena and Charudatta’s wife. Vasanthasena is a member of a prestigious ancient institution ‘Vaishya’ (like Hetaera in ancient Greece and Gesha of Japan) which at its inception was related to religion and spirituality.

By the way great Kannada playwright and theatre/film director Girish Karnad in his famous film ‘Utsav’, devotes a full episode to show the admirable sisterly relationship between the two characters, devoid of any jealousy.

iii) Unfortunately I haven’t seen the Tamil stage version yet, but I have seen the Sinhala stage production brought out by Jana Karaliya in Colombo . I enjoyed the work and was pleased to find that it was fine both in its artistic construction and in humanist discourse; I am sure Jana Karaliya was tapping the rich dramatic and theatre resources of the modern Brechtian tradition of epic theatre.

Jana Karaliya has carefully selected a limited amount of episodic material from the huge bag of this ancient drama to construct a tightly and harmoniously woven dramatic text which is capable of shedding modern /humanist light on the themes of social justice and rebellion, love, lust and friendship. It was not only an entertaining spectacle in many sense, but challenging too, in its radical discourse on love and marriage.

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  1. I think it is only fair that Jayashankar responds to this and other comments made earlier in response to his review as it seems that none of the commentators have seen the play staged in Batti in Tamil.I think he should argue as to whether this type of play is essential in the present context of the existense of Tamils when there are many related burning questions like land grabbing,war widows,Army and Navy(Retired Governors), victors and the victims. Perhaps ‘Trojan Women’ in Tamil may be more appropriate and not ‘epic theatre,but ‘absurd’plays.

  2. The same Tamil play was performed at Lionel Wendt Thatre, Colombo on 29th April. I have seen both Sinhala and Tamil productions. Except some enhancements in music in Tamil one, there was no differance in designes of these two versions. So not necessary to witness both versions to write any coments on this drama. Redish’s idea is somewhat acceptable. But, we must not consider only about the content of the play as an artwork. As I know, creators of this play have produced it as a collective effort. Though there is no depth in the story the Sinhala and Tamil young group has got together to make this creation. Sometimes working together for any kind of a creative work is much more effective than just producing or watching a drama in a hall and get out. We must appreciate their effort as they are about to produce next Tamil drama too in Batticaloa as announced by Prof. Maunaguru after the Lionel Wendt performance of Mrichchakatiham. As he said that production would be “Cocasian Chalk Circle” of Bertolt Brecht, the famous epic Play which produced by Henrey Jayasena in Sinhala. We are awaiting for that. As Wigdish Finbogadottier, once the prasident of International Theatre Institute said “if the curtains anywhere in the world open, for any kind of a creation, we must condescendingly thankful and appreciate it”

  3. In the late sixties So.Nadarajah, son of Somasundara Pulavar has translated Brecht’s Chalk Circle and the German Embassy has promised Ernst Mc Intyre to produce it in Tamil. As students of Ernest at the Theatre course in Aquinas University College Tarcisius and I were helping Ernest who now lives in Sydney in Casting and audition. German Embassy wanted us to perform in Tamil Nadu also. Ladies Weeramani the famous actor,Singer and performer of Villu pattu was to do both the characters done by Vijeratna Warakagoda(Narrator) in the first half and Azadak’s role(Henry Jayasena) in the second half. Famous Tamil singer of that time Kulaseelanathan also auditioned for the Narrator’s role. Unfortunately when everything was ready Ernest migrated to Australia and the German Embassy was not ready to finance us Tarci and me who were young Law students with no proven talent in Theatre. Now at least after so many years it is good to see Brecht being produced in Tamil. They have done it in Tamil Nadu. ‘Koothu Pattarai’ of Chennai lead by Na.Muththusamy did it with the assistance of a German Theatre Personality some years ago.


    Brecht was done in Tamil decades ago. Balendra’s Avaikaatru Kazhagham staged Brecht’s “exception and the Rule”in Tamil as “Yugadharmam”. I still remember the catchy song “Valindha Kaalgal Munne Sella”………….

  4. DBS, Thanks for that info. However ‘Caucasian Chalk Circle’ was not staged in Tamil in SL to my knowledge.The play in English was staged first at Lionel Wendt Theatre by Ernest (Karunakaran) Mc Intyre, an old boy of St.Patrics College, Jaffna and a Peradeniya University graduate. Later it was produced in Sinhalese (Hunu Wataya Kathawa)by Henry Jayasena and it was a huge success. He took it all over the country. Ernest also did a small role some times when it was staged in Colombo. It was even staged in Trinco under the auspices of the Lions Club at the St. Josephs College Auditorium. People like Douglas Ranasinghe acted in it in addition to Henry’s wife Manel.Anyway it would be a nice play to do in Tamil even now using Koothu also.It is much closer to traditional Tamil Theatre. It has some relevance to the situation today like when Azdak says,”I take” sitting in the Judge’s chair, meaning he accepts bribe.I think it is time for me to alienate myself from the Theatre world and get back to Politics again not to forget Human Rights.

  5. Dear Friends,

    A brief note

    Master pieces of Modern Drama not only from Western Europe or America but also from Africa, Middle East and Asia produced in Tamil as well as in English throughout the last 30 years without funding from Local or International agencies.

    Antigone, Chalk Circle, Lower Depths, Trial of Dedan Kimanthi(Africa), Mad man on the roof(Japan), Dragon, Doll’s House, The Accident(Palestinian Play), Riders to the Sea are few from the complete whole.

    The Ashen Touch and Flightless Butterflies (Original Plays in English) were performed in Colombo too in the new millennium.

    The above mentioned mentioned plays are performed in the auditoriums in the meantime theatre activities of the Sri Lankan Tamils are extended to different spaces in different forms and on different issues. Aesthetic value of these theatres are also varied. Art – Propaganda binaries will not suit to the new cultural environment.

    The works in the field and the writings (in English too)on Reformulation of Traditional Theatre as an organic form of Community Theatre is the clear evidence of how dialogue on tradition and culture is put forwarded in Sri Lankan Tamil Theatre.

    The engagement with gender and feminism is another important feature of the Sri Lankan Tamil Modern Theatre. Those who are doing theatre in the schools itself conscious of proper treatment of characters and selection of plays.

    Its very important to know the realities and try not to impose imagined realities and to be the liberal “messiahs”.

    Theatre lives and resist in oppressive situations but not only in theatre halls as “The Art” and “The Aesthetic”.


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