1. Critically comment on the different attitudes towards Art that the conversation between Kelu and the Poet reveals.
2. The “mirror scene” in the play brings together reality, representations, visions, and constructed images. Explain.
3. Attempt a critical analysis of the play Kelu.
The play Kelu dramatises the life of Vidwan P Kelu Nair, a nationalist leader who also became popular as a dramatist in Malabar under the British Raj in the early twentieth century. The play Kelu deals with many nuances of the art of writing. The centre of the play is the dilemma faced by a writer who faces a writer’s block. The play brings together the present and past generations of writers in one frame. Through the interaction with the past generation of writers, Balakrishnan overcomes the limitations that clutch the process of his writing. The beginning of the play is a meeting where the assignment of writing the play is given to Balakrishnan.
K Madhavan, the chairman of the Vidwan P Kelu Nair Memorial Trust suggests that they should celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of independence appropriately. He was speaking in the meeting of the Executive Committee of the Trust. When one of the members suggested that they could enact one of the plays written by Vidwan P Kelu Nair, K Madhavan responded that more significant than his plays is the playwright himself. It is Kelu master that the new generation must know about. K Madhavan acknowledges that the present generation does not know the depth or breadth of the life of Vidwan P Kelu Nair. Balakrishnan Nambiar is chosen to write a play on Kelu Nair. Balakrishnan Nair had written a biography on Kelu previously. It is this experience that prompted the members of the committee to select Balakrishnan Nair to write a play on Kelu.
As the process of writing unravelled, Balakrishnan confronts his incapabilities to complete the play. He hallucinates seeing the figure of Kelu and converses with him on the difficulties of the writing process. He acknowledges that he knows very little about Kelu. In light of this, Balakrishnan finds himself incapable of completing the play. Kelu suggests that Balakrishnan can use the contradiction between the person and the act as the mould for his play. When Balakrishnan inquired why Kelu killed himself, Kelu didn’t give any answer and left the stage. Soon, Balakrishnan visualises the presence of the great poet P Kunhiraman Nair and speaks with him. Kunhiraman Nair consoles Balakrishnan by telling him that a play is not meant to shrink life into a grasp. It is important to acknowledge the difficulty in such an attempt.
Then the scene shifts and Kelu and Kunhiraman Nair appear. At first, Kelu is unable to recognize Kunhiraman Nair. Once he recognizes him, a feeling of astonishment washes over him. We observe them converse about their place in the play being written by Balakrishnan. They discuss a question of great import: who is an artist? Kelu remarks that life is a deluge. Every individual should possess a mirror of one’s own to have perspective.
Then both take hand mirrors. Each of them calls out the epithets given to them by society while looking into the mirror. Gradually, their vision shifts to specific instances of their life, giving them the perspective that the epithets given to them by the society do not completely represent who they truly are. Kunhiraman Nair, the great poet, concludes that as artists, they do not require mirrors. In other words, the poet acknowledges the importance of shedding all the labels imposed on them by society. From this conversation, the play moves onto a scene from the life of Kelu and Meenakshi.
Meenakshi fears that if the relatives in Neeleswaram and Chanderi come to know about the play, they will turn against Kelu. Kelu’s ideas were revolutionary. They are about the removal of untouchability from society. She also worries that if her father finds out that one of the characters, a stubborn patriarch, in the play is modelled on him, he shall be furious. She reminds him of Lakshmikutty’s wedding, where, according to Meekakshi, Kelu staged a khaddar drama. Revolutionary ideas that contradict the traditional dogmas prevalent in the society appear daunting to Meenakshi.
Kelu Nair becomes emotionally disturbed at Meenakshi’s reminder of how the tentacles of the society would be quick to interfere in the life of the playwright if he goes on to endorse revolutionary ideas. Kelu’s attempt to inculcate opposition against the caste system and untouchability in the society is viewed as a threat by the members of dominant communities. Realising this, at the end of the play on his own, Kelu looks up at the statue of Pakkanar. Kelu feels that the statue’s eyes are gazing at his defeated self. He threatens the statue of Pakkanar that he shall smear its eyes with kohl. In his emotional surge, Kelu smears the eyes of the statue with kohl. However, he is quick to apologise for his action as well. In his delirium, Kelu sees Pakkanar as a representative of the traditionalists who denounce the plays of Kelu.
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