Nireeksha Women’s Theatre group develops short stories by nine women writers as radio plays

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The drama series is an initiative for She Radio on Radio Malayalam, the online radio of Malayalam Mission, Government of Kerala

When the pandemic brought the curtain down on live theatre performances, audio dramas became popular. Radio Malayalam, an online radio station of Malayalam Mission, a project of the Government of Kerala to promote Malayalam language and culture, also joined the bandwagon.

Under the Mission’s initiative, Nireeksha Women’s Theatre group, Thiruvananthapuram, developed short stories penned by nine noted women Malayalam writers into radio plays. Tune in to the plays on the channel’s She Radio, which was begun as part of Samam, ‘a social education programme for gender equality in Kerala’ started by the Department of Cultural Affairs, Government of Kerala.

While two plays have already been aired — Prathikara Devatha by Lalithambika Antharjanam and Maappu by Rajalakshmi — the third one, Pakshiyude Manam, by Madhavikutty/Kamala Das is being aired through this week. Other authors in the list are Sara Thomas, P Valsala, Gracy, Sara Joseph, BM Suhara and Ashitha.

“With women being subjected to injustice of different kinds, Samam was launched to discuss and shed light on their issues, create awareness and give them a voice. She Radio was launched in this context and radio plays are one among the programmes. We have chosen women writers who have left an indelible mark in history with their stories and outlook at different points of time,” says Suja Susan George, director, Malayalam Mission, and programme committee head of Samam.

Nireeksha, founded by Rajarajeswari E and Sudhi Devayani in 1999, has been at the forefront of creating a space for women’s theatre with their productions. “When Suja suggested the idea we were excited about exploring the audio format. It has been a sought-after space throughout the pandemic,” says Rajarajeswari, who has scripted the radio plays.

The writers were selected as per the chronological order of the year of their birth.

Challenges involved

Rajarajeswari points that converting short stories to plays, that too for the audio space, had several challenges. “They are two different entities. Certain elements in the story can be brought out through sound or music. But it was not possible to do that in portions where the author has written down the thoughts of the characters. So, we turned to new devices, such as introducing a new character as in the case of Maappu,” she adds.

Sudhi, who directed the plays, says: “We are not doing independent adaptations of these short stories and so there was no question of changing the dialogues or even the thought process of the respective authors.”

The team of Nireeksha theatre group while recording the radio play ‘Maappu’ at Malayalam Mission's studio in Thiruvananthapuram

The team of Nireeksha theatre group while recording the radio play ‘Maappu’ at Malayalam Mission’s studio in Thiruvananthapuram
 
| Photo Credit: Special arrangement

They say that it was a conscious decision to start the series with a story by Lalithambika Antharjanam, who shaped the history of feminist writing in Malayalam literature with her books that threw light on the plight of women in Namboothiri households in Kerala. Prathikara Devatha (The Goddess of Revenge) is a conversation between the author and Kuriyedathu Thatri, a young Namboodiri woman who was put on trial (‘Smarthavicharam’) for ‘promiscuous behaviour’ in 1905.

Maappu (The Apology) by Rajalakshmi has its relevance in the present day, say the duo. Rema, a young college lecturer, teaching a class of boys, is upset when one of her students, Paul Varghese, says that the most disgusting pronoun is ‘She’. It snowballs into a serious issue with several stories being weaved around it. “The incident happened in the 60s and situation is no different for a working woman. That realisation actually shook us inside out,” says Rajarajeswari.

Sudhi adds: “As women, we could relate to the incidents or situations the characters were in. So it was easy for us to understand what the authors were trying to communicate.”

However, selecting the authors and the works were a challenge. “We were spoilt for choice when it came to finalising the story by a particular author. Also, it was important to understand the author and the milieu, for which we had to read up all the material available about her,” Sudhi says.

Artistes of Nireeksha have given voice to the characters. However, they plan to bring in actors from outside as in the case of Pakshiyude Manam that had veterans Raja Warrier and Vimala Menon.

Suja says that they have plans to bring these plays on stage, especially in campuses, through Samam Theatre, which was formed after a theatre workshop for women from colleges across the state that was held last month.

Listen to Prathikara Devatha and Maappu on Nireeksha’s website (www.nireeksha.org). Pakshiyude Manam is currently broadcast on Radio Malayalam on Malayalam Mission app till December 2 and will be available on the website after that.



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