Seldom goes by a Thursday, which happens to be my off-day, without yours truly and Pretish, a undergraduate college friend, who has stuck by me since the days when Aadhaar was just another identification card, going to a cinema hall to watch the latest movie. There have been more than half a dozen times when we have watched back-to-back movies. Thursdays, in other words, can be summed up as the day when we pay our weekly dues to the theatre operator. We broke that routine yesterday.
As a few might know already, ‘The Hindu Theatre Fest’ is currently happening in the city. After I had a quick word with Pretish, it was decided that we would watch the play on my week-off. We didn’t really bother ourselves with the banner or the language (an English-Hindi bilingual). After all, going by the play’s title, it was ‘One Night Only’.
Thursday evening came and we found ourselves taking the centre seats at the very back of the auditorium, the fantastic Museum Theatre in Egmore. But before the lights dimmed out, Pretish (with a tinge of sarcasm) sighed, “Ah, only if there were snack counters outside.”
The start of the play was hilarious and it had nothing to do with it. An old man, who was guiding last minute entrants to the seats, offered his help to two individuals standing in the centre aisle. “Sir, we are the artists” and with that they ran to the stage, beginning one of the most satisfying and gripping shows I have been to.
The play narrated the tale of Aravan, son of Arjuna, sacrificing his life for the Pandavas to emerge victorious in the Kurukshetra war. Before he is killed, however, he asks Krishna for three wishes and is granted the same, of which one concerns marriage, widowhood and Koovagam.
In Koovagam, a small village near Villupuram, is a temple for Aravan, who in local parlance is called as Koothandavar. The village plays host to one of the largest gathering of transgender persons in the country every year during April/May. They enact the marriage of Aravan to Mohini, a female avatar of Krishna, and the latter’s mourning following the death of her husband.
The performance, which was both authentic and artistic, reminded me of my reporting assignment in Koovagam when I was with the Deccan Chronicle in 2015. I filed four reports after camping in the village for two days. In one of the reports, I wrote, “Having spoken to several persons during the course of the festival, there seems to be a commonly accepted view that while transgender persons are bestowed with great respect and recognised in northern regions of the country, perhaps due to public familiarity with characters like Mohini and Shikhandi, the same doesn’t hold true down south.”
By the time we came to the end of the nearly 80 minute long brilliant dance cum drama performance, both of us knew the other liked it as well. There were three takeaways for me – 1. A lot more people need to be sensitised about the lives of transgender persons, 2. Krishna (or should say the actor who performed the role) is actually a cool dude 3. I must watch more plays!