Kalairani’s Varagalama + Show dont tell

I remember watching a theatre actor from Chennai, Kalairani perform her one person act – Varagalama in Neenasam in 2008. This is one of the many plays that has left a mark on me. One actor telling the story of a dalit woman who wishes to enter the gates of the temple and pay homage to her most favourite god. She is not allowed. Her bhakti keeps her circling the temple, and all she wants is an entrance. What I found most potent about this play was that Kalairani – the artist, used only two words in the play. No long sentences telling us about her inner conflicts, no paragraph length monologues or soliloquies about the caste ridden society that she was from or the obstacles on her spiritual path. Just the singing of, the pleading with two words Swamy Varagalama. I wondered who this swamy was! The deity, her saviour or the Brahmin who stood guarding the door of the temple.


Characters could convey so much in just two words, they could convey so much in silence, and a play could be constructed out of it. Repeatedly I find myself veering towards it. It is really hard to break this in mainstream drama though. I find play after play tells us many things rather than showing us.

An actor once had the following lines to say “I have a head ache, and I will take a pill” he later touched his forehead and massaged it, walked to the table and took a pill with water. I find that such things really are unnecessary. But it is a challenge.

Even when working with children, some challenges are that children will sometimes tell you the story, rather than show us what happened. In a sketch about showing invisible objects in class, a child had the task of making a fruit salad using different kinds of invisible fruits and without talking. After some practice time, the child came up to me and told me that he first used an apple, and then a banana etc.. Showing in the absence of speaking is really hard. It is a skill that we need to develop.


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