I knew whom Vaikom Muhammed Basheer was. He was a well known Malayalam writer of yesteryears. But I had no idea that he was such a great dude. If the Magic Lantern group’s play named Moonshine and Skytoffee had a standing ovation, one significant part of the applause goes to the writer Vaikkom Mohammed Basheer. Basheer’s two short stories, Love Letter [Premalekhanam, 1943] and The Cardsharp’s Daughter [Muchcheettukaikkaarantaey Makal, 1951] were intelligently combined together into one play and they both had bold themes. If he could be such a radical thinker then, I am sure his works must make a worthy read.
While I hate to re-tell the story in a review, this one should be an exception for not many may get a chance to see the play for themselves. Moonshine and Skytoffee revolves around the lives of two pairs of lovers and father of a bride. The story is set in Kerala during the 1940’s. Kesavan Nair[Bala], a 20ish geeky guy falls in love with his house owner’s daughter Saramma[Aparna]. While Saramma is a christian, Kesavan Nair is a Hindu. Similarly, in their neighbourhood, in a Chai shop, Zainaba[Taruna] a Muslim girl, falls in love with a pickpocket ‘Mandan’ Muthapa [Jagan a.k.a Vijay TV fame Nandu]. Zainaba’s dad ‘OttaKannan’ Pokker is a street juggler who fools people into his three card poker game and makes a living with that.
While Kesavan Nair hesitates and finally pleads to Saramma to love him, Saramma makes a deal of twenty rupees a month to love him. Kesavan Nair who is deeply in love with her agrees to the deal. His salary being just 40 bucks a month. Saramma seems to question him too much about their lifestyle if they are married and also extracts the huge sum of twenty bucks without any consideration to Kesavan Nair’s financial trouble. She challenges the concept of love. Meanwhile, ‘Mandan’ Muthapa who is a sidekick of ‘OttaKannan’ Pokker turns back on him one day challenging his three card trick and also vows to marry his daughter Zainaba. What happens finally for both these lovers is told in a rib tickling manner that would make you feel good for the rest of the day.
Everyone has convincingly become the character themselves and it really amazes me to see such talented actors not getting noticed in the Kollywood. I am simply stuck to mention any one of the character first. If I wish to mention Aparna as Saramma as the best, I recollect Hans Koushik as ‘OttaKannan’ Pokker , not to mention the versatile Bala and multi-faceted Jagan. These guys are simply at their best. Be it the way Saramma asks for a Dungudoo bag or how Kesavan Nair gets frenzy over the name Skytoffee or how Mandan (meaning Idiot) displays the pickpocketing technique or even the first act where OttaKannan Pokker teaches Muthapa to smoke with the nostrils the actors executed the job well. The best part was the play was so grippingly comical that two hours rolled over so easily.
Hats of Rajiv Krishnan who has directed this play. Rajiv has done a lot of research and good work to weave both these stories together into a play. He deserves to be noted. Also the slick simple sets that brought out the rural Kerala as it was in the 1940’s was a big plus. Just a tea shop and cardboard which wad made into the lead actor’s house were the only sets in the play.
This is one monster of a humor play. A must watch if you are Chennai, because rarely we get such nice stuff like this.
P.S : This play is on stage in Alliance Francaise, College Road. The last shows are at today. With popular demand, they might have it going for a few more weeks. If you need to get in touch with the play troupe, here’s the number, Rajiv 98410 99435 and Surya 98840 37938.