HEY, HERO (a rehearsed performance)
IT WAS in 1975, while working With The Guardian,
that Tim(eri) Murari followed up an investigative
story on the Liverpool street
gangs, then at their worst, with the second of his
13 novels, "The New Savages". Some years
later, he scripted a play based on the novel, but
by then the Liverpool scene
had changed, and producers did not want a bit of the
ugly past. So the script lay dormant ,for years, particularly
as he had returned to India.
Till Theatre-en, a new and young Madras
theatre group, asked him for a play.
In the Madras
of today, the Madras
of rival gangs, goondas and their dadas, ruthless
policemen, rising crime rates and corruption, Murari
saw the Liverpool he had investigated.
And so he dusted up the play, changed the names, added
local references and, hey, presto, there was "Hey,
Hero", staged recently as a "rehearsed performance"
for an invited audience in Chetan Shah's back garden.
shrill chatter of a party in a neighbour's house,
the whirring of air- conditioners in other neighbouring
homes, and the whispers and the shuffling of the audience
did not make listening easy, particularly with the
young cast, but for an exception or two, unable to
project their voices. More disappointing, the cast
appeared unable to get into the spirit of brutality
the play is soaked in, their attempts at punches and
stabbings almost caricatures of violence. And when
Murari left it to the cast to 'improve' on his script
by spontaneously throwing in the Tamil argot and expletives
of the street, he forgot how 'propah' conservative
Madrasis can be.
Despite the philosophical note it struck several times
on the eternal 'Who am I?' question, "Hey, Hero"
is a script that held this non-philosopher's attention.
But if, when Theatre-en next stages it in a theatre,
the actors can get truly violent and really hurt each
other physically - or at least make it seem so, by
getting the help of a film fight director -and if
they let themselves go with their language, particularly
using snatches of that ever-so- eloquent Tamil of
the street, we'd see a powerful performance. Murari
should also think of offering it to the Tamil theatre;
it would really come alive then. As an expat pointed
out, it's a play with a universal theme today and,
with the shanty town language of whatever city it
is staged in, it would be a powerful play anywhere.
He was thinking of the Gorbles of Glasgow, and a slot
in the next Edinburgh
festival, maybe. S.Muthiah, The Hindu
CHETAN SHAHS backyard sort of burst at the seams,
with guests invited to the 'rehearsed performance
of Timeri Murari's, play "Hey Hero'. Initially
there were not too many questions, as to what a 'rehearsed
performance' implied. When you piece it together,
in linear form the story takes you to the local goonda
chief Arjun, now in jail. Brother, Lakshman and girlfriend
Vali idolize him and believe in all that he will do
when he return, to protect them, to indulge them.
Bala and Ramesh, also of the same gang, see this,
as an opportunity to step into the Dada's shoes. SP
Inder, on his beat, hassles everyone on behalf of
the police force. He waits for Arjun's return, to
kill him, because he believes Arjun violated his wife.
(Truth is Ramesh did it pretending to be Arjun.) Kailash
touts come by to score over the rival gang and establish
territory. Arjun returns, but to everyone's disappointment,
a changed man. While in jail, he confronted the ultimate
question, 'Who am 1?' He loses his sense of violence
and revenge. His old friends and gang find the new
equation unacceptable They need their hero back in
action whether to serve him or to fight him.
turns his attention on Ramesh based on new evidence
that the violator wore a steel watch. Lakshman dies
in a gang skirmish. Taunted, Arjun returns to violence.
Both he and Ramesh die and with them any hope of enlightenment.
At a time when theatre has become an intellectual
exercise of figuring out implications and symbolisms
and when plot runs at many levels and different time
frames, "Hey Hero" charmed with its directness
and simplicity and the way it was unashamed to deal
with basic human emotions which have become unfashionable.
While Murari was spending time in the U.K.,
he noticed much media coverage on a very similar incident
between rival gangs in Liverpool.
He wrote the play as a casual response and didn't
quite work on it further. When this performance came
up, he changed the names and some of the topical references
and handed the script over to Martin Mathews and Ajit
Chitturi who 'conducted the performance.' The script
packs too much story and too many incidents into an
hour of performance time. Perhaps that did not give
the characters and situations adequate space to evolve
and develop and show change or growth onstage. Sometimes
the scenes jumped more in the style of a screenplay.
The directors on the other hand seem to have gone
into the production unmindful of any
of these problems. It moved at a slow pace and totally
without energy- the one prerequisite in any effort
that presents gangs and slums. Pluck and energy sustain
that quarter of our society.
It is not easy for an outsider to portray the delicate
complexity of slum life without extensive research.
However, Vivin Mathew as Kailash was impressive. Flickers
of fire deep within him lit his eyes. Another part,
rather well done was Vinu Varkey's policeman. However
his performance should have shown a lot more drive
and aggression. Gangsters and thieves live constantly
in anxiety, panic and on edge. The touch was missing.
Though the criminals are supposed to be from the slums
of Chennai, they flavoured more of Dharavi life. Also,
what happened to the spark in the Arjun-Valli meeting?
The scenes that came through for their tenderness
and emotion and the closeness between siblings were
the ones between Arjun (Ajit Chitturi) and Lakshman
(Sendhil Kumar). In other
places there were flashes of trauma from Chitturi
but the process of the shift back to Dada was not
The heightened theatre activity in Chennai is most
encouraging, but the smugness with which our groups
approach theatre a performance is a little disappointing.
When a performance group has invited an audience whether
paying not, they have an obligation to put their best
foot forward. The lines should reach "that deaf,
old woman in the last row" in the audience. Then
should be movement on stage and choreography that
explains the director's vision. There should be character
delineation. Good timing, and the right pace are the
outcome of commitment and very hard work. .'Hey Hero"
does not deserve any more brickbats than anyone or
anything else. (I must confess and perhaps even apologize
that they just happened to be in the wrong place at
the wrong time!) Chennai has abundant talent and generous
patronage. The groups only need to go for it and push
the envelope. Sometimes give the audience what they
want. At other times show them the way. Elizabeth
Roy, The Hindu.