Period dramas are challenging. In addition to gauging set accuracy with the times, the dialogue diction and other peripherals are just as pertinent. And to pull it off with dexterity is rare. Such is the feat that has been achieved by the Singapore Kairalee Kala Nilayam crew with their recent Short Play festival.

The shows opened to sold out audiences on Friday, the 7th of May 2021. Despite the concerns regarding the second issuance of Phase 2 in line with the country’s COVID19 response, the seats were sold out (incorporating social distancing and other pandemic compliances) and the audience left the venue in tears. This is not a bad thing, as you will know by the end of this review.

Scene from the play Ente Uppupaanu Oru Aanendayirnu

The first on the production was “Ente Uppupaanu Oru Aanendayirnu”. Based on an original story by the Malayalam literary great Basheer, it is based on the ephemerality of wealth and its effect on the human ego. Although the original is set in the 50s, the piece was adapted to modern times, with a creative addition of an original song. Impressive performances by Suji as the stern patriarch and Archana Pradeep Kumar as the intellectually challenged yet kind-hearted daughter brighten up the stage. They are colourfully interacted with by the charming Biju Kurup, who plays a soft-spoken lover, and Veena Unni who plays the empowered sister. But the real star of the play was Biju Kurup’s wife, Kala, who plays the spiteful matriarch. Her performance was so powerful, that despite being a very timid character off-stage, I am sure no audience member would have left the hall without hating her (character). They were supported well by Moly Pradeep, Nisha, Vivek and Minal. The director MKV Rajesh too had a cameo to play as the comical exorcist who would give the audience a warm chuckle.

scene from the play Vilikkathe Vannaval

The next play was of a different tone, set in a more urbanised ambience, “Vilikkathe Vannaval” based on an original script by Omchery. The oldest among the 3 plays, it was set in the most modern era among all of them. Nannitha Menon shines as usual in her characteristic outspoken grandeur, aided by a complementary performance from Sheeba Stephen as the spineless manipulator. Praise has to be granted to Sunitha Nair for flawlessly delivering the most challenging monologues of Malayalam drama history. Shibolin Gangadharan, albeit not given the luxury of too many dialogues, imparts a special grace to her character. Sulastri made the audience nervous with her homely persona as the house’s other female in fear of Nannitha’s matron. Binoop Nair, who served as one of the directors to the play in addition to D. Sudheeran, too plays a small cameo in the comedy.

Scene from the play Biriyani

The final performance was the longest one titled “Biriyani”, not to be confused with the recently released film. Based on an award winning story by Santosh Echikkanam, D. Sudheeran has probably delivered yet another masterpiece with this powerful tale about the class divide and human poverty. Jayaram Nair, a well-known actor in the Singapore movie and drama circle, surprises us as the heartless and ostentatious rich man. The actor known for his grey roles gives justices to his performance yet again. Vinayak played his grandson, who seems to be the more humane one in the family. The young man, despite a short acting history, seems poised for a promising acting career. Vishnu and Basil Shibu complemented as supporting characters well. But the real stars of the drama were 2 names-Rajith Mohan and Shanishmon. As a playful manoeuvre by the director, both actors switched protagonist roles between shows to deliver contrasting yet equally poignant performances as the destitute migrant worker. The actors’ final monologues left the audience in tears as the curtains fell, etching their performances into their hearts.

The drama fest also had a helpful subtitle screen for every performance to aid the audiences who lacked a profound fluency in Malayalam and it was greeted with appreciation from the Singaporean audience.

The short drama festival is playing out at the Goodman Arts Centre Black Box from May 7-9 2021.