The Tenth Head: Theatre Review

The play, “The Tenth Head”, written by Vinay Kumar KJ, directed by Veenapani Chawla, and staged by Adishakti Laboratory and Theatre Art Research, Puduchery, has a very interesting central premise: that all the heads of Ravana are not alike, and that the tenth head is quite different from the other nine.
Intrigued by this, I went to watch the staging at Ranga Shankara, on the 18th of February, 2014. I found myself both interested and puzzled at different times during the play.
The on-again-off-again power situation took its toll on Ranga Shankara’s usual punctuality, and the play started a little late, with Virginia Rodrigues announcing that they hoped the power would last through the 1 hr 15 minute show…which it luckily did (they did not have a generator backup.)
Vinay Kumar KJ  played the role of the tenth head of Ravana, the chief antagonist of the Ramayana. In the words of the director, the tenth head becomes a metaphor for the tension between the individual and the collective..surely a friction that every Indian, torn between the traditional importance assigned to the family and the moder stress on the individual, can identify with.
In folklore, Ravana is depicted as having ten heads, and as the poay proceeds, it’s clear that the tenth head is different from the other nine, who are individual only in representing the navarasas or nine emotions. The tenth head also feels that nine heads on a shoulder would be symmetrical, the tenth would spoil the symmetry.
Vinay’s mastery of the art of movement and depiction of expression is excellent.  He emoted, clearly (often in mime, and only with one song and a few words) the different heads, and what the tenth wants to do, and how he works it out. The tenth head makes a film on the other nine heads, and also asks for the help of three artists in his quest for symmetry …help that is, ultimately, not given.
The play is a multimedia projection and the projections, on several white screens, were extremely impressive, especially the finale! Take a bow, Anoop Davis, and Apoorva Mathur!
Apart from this, the cast who also played the artists, are superb musicians; the chenda (Malayalam drum) was played by Suresh Kaliyath, Nimmy Raphae  gave the vocals and played the mizhavu, a pot drum, and Arvind Rane on the Edikkya. One particular tableau had a very long session on both percussion instruments while the tenth head dealt with the other nine. The Malayalm theatre touch was very pronounced throughout the play in the miming of the tenth head and the music of the artists; I was strongly reminded, in fact, of Kathakali dancers’ emoting of various mythological characters.
The costumes by Upasana Auroville were all in black, and all the more striking because of that. The light design was, again, by Vinay, and the lights were operated by Anoop Davis.. a job well done. Stage properties were numerous, and sometimes baffling; I could not really understand the sequence with a tennis ball, or the piece of rope. 
The direction of a play is at its most effective when it is unobtrusive, and this was certainly true of this staging. Vinay and the animation had commanding presences on the stage. 
Though the thread of the different tableaus was a little tough to follow,and I felt that they could have been tightened a little more (and the play, possibly, brought down to 60 from 75+ minutes), the group provided an excellent brochure, reading which,post the play, helped me understand it much better.
However, the grouse that I have is that the cast and crew were not introduced at all after the play. If we have spent 75 minutes watching a play, we’d like to spend a little extra time knowing who’s who! 
All in all, a good play to watch; though the thread may be a little abstruse, at times, the virtuosity of the cast and crew is undeniable, and I had a very enjoyable evening.
The play is being staged tomorrow (20th Feb 2014)  as well, and then the group is staging “Nidrathwam” on Thursday, the 21st of February. More power to this talented theatre group from Pondicherry!

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