Essay Questions: (Answer in not more than 200-250 words)
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. He was part of the nationalist movement. His plays include Padukapattabhishekam, Lankadahanam, Dhruvacharitram, Pakkanaar Charitam, and Vivekodayam. He juxtaposed mythology and the political scenarios of concurrent times. The play Kelu deals with many nuances of the art of writing. The centre of the play is at the dilemma faced by a writer who faces a writer’s block. His visualization of the characters in the play brings together the present and past generations of writers in one frame. Through the interaction, writer Balakrishnan overcomes the limitations that clutch his process of 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 that he sees the figure of Kelu and converses with him on the difficulties of the writing process. He acknowledges that he knows very little about Kelu. The capacity of the play to present a person with all the nuances in his or her life reveals itself. In light of this, Balakrishnan finds himself inadequate. Soon, he visualizes 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.
The scene shifts and both historical figures carry a hand mirror. 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 Neeleshwaram and Chanderi came 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 also reminds him of the play he staged during Lakshmikutty’s wedding. 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. Realizing 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 it with kohl. In his emotional surge, Kelu smears the statue of Pakkanar with kohl. However, he is quick to apologize for his action as well. In his delirium, Kelu sees Pakkanar as a representative of the traditionalists who denounce the plays of Kelu.
Kelu, the play uses strategies of the metatheatre. The characters in the play, such as Kunhiraman Nair, Kelu and Balakrishnan interact by accepting that they are part of the play. Sasudharan and Rajagopalan’s play tries to capture not only the fire and fury of the historical times in which Kelu Nair lived but the inner turmoil of the sensitive individual whom circumstances pushed to suicide at a young age.
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REF: Multiple Modernities, edited by Board of Editors, Kannur University, Cohin: Hornbill Publishing House, 2019. Print.