Chaitanyak Matt Naa: A Review

Iris C F Gomes

Kala Academy’s School of Drama brings us another gem from the playwright Pundalik Naik, performed by its students. Chaitanyak Matt Naa, which loosely translated means that one cannot contain consciousness or enthusiasm within an edifice, was written in 1989-90. The Konkani play, much in the line of Naik’s novel Achhev (Upheaval), Chaitanyak Matt Naa serves us with a view of the consequences of our actions, or alternately, our inertia, and the impact of an awakened consciousness.

This play was initially performed as an exercise in improvisational class with the first year students, and soon the possibility of performing it for an audience was envisioned. The ensemble play was appreciated for its potential to encompass students from all the three years of the drama school, giving them a chance to bond with each other, particularly the first year students. Padmashree Josalkar, the director of the School of Drama, says, ‘When you see them loading and unloading the sets from the bus, setting it up on the stage, putting up the lights, doing the make-up, wearing the costumes, there is a good camaraderie and one will find it difficult to say who belongs to which year!’ This is the first time the students have performed a play at eleven venues in just 30 days. Earlier it was up to four to six venues in the same period.

The play opens to a scene that shows us a village where the men are lazing about without a care in the world, only engaging in gossip and stories. The women are the workers of the village and trudge to distant places to obtain water and sustenance for their families. One day in the midst of a male gathering, a herald makes his way announcing the imminent arrival of Swami Chaitanya Kumar. The men babble in their confusion about the attributes and workings of various swamis. They search out the herald and, manhandling him, they transport him back into their village. The irate herald, who calls himself Ankush, launches verbal abuse on his attackers, and the subdued villagers listen in eagerness to his advice on how they should prepare for the swami’s coming.

Using scathing language and the foreboding of unpleasant consequences, Ankush motivates the men to uncover an age-old well, and grow flowers and fruit in their village as a prerequisite to attaining the swami’s benevolent blessings. He pushes the villagers to the limits of their patience and energy, and tests them by making cruel calls for restitution when villagers do not abide by his rules. The final straw comes when he tells the villagers that they have to make their womenfolk available to the swami to serve him in ‘every way’. The villagers finally having their self-respect aroused, become incensed and oust him from the village. On his departure, in the midst of the furore, a village elder recognises Ankush for who he truly is and laments the loss of his blessing. Nonetheless, Swami Chaitanya’s goal has been accomplished – he has roused their self-awareness and self-respect, and enabled them to recognise the value of menial work and cherish the fruit of their labour. Having done so, Swami Chaitanya Kumar, the embodiment of consciousness and energy, moves on to remove indolence and apathy in other villages.

The play suggests that man’s recognition and embracing of his stewardship of nature will ultimately lead him to good actions. We see this as the villagers restore their water source and revive the plant growth (alongside the caustic barbs of Ankush/Swami Chaitanya), also growing in consciousness and tapping into the once dormant energy or enthusiasm they possess. While this energy or enthusiasm cannot be restricted within a physical structure (Matt), neither can the presence of the swami whose name means energy or consciousness. He must move from village to village promoting this transformation.

The measure of a good play is that it speaks volumes to the audience without having to spell out the message it wishes to convey. Chaitanyak Matt Naa does this with an ease that testifies to the literary prowess of the playwright Pundalik Naik.

Nevertheless, it is the calibre of the director that determines the dramatic manifestation of the playwright’s words. In his role as director, Avinash Chari has succeeded in doing so in such a way that even someone with minimal knowledge of Konkani is able to grasp the significant concepts of the play. He talks about overcoming the challenges in the dramatic portrayal of the play without losing the integrity of his directorial style. ‘I’ve worked with more actors than the number in this play, so that was not an issue. Not allowing them to blend into a choral formation and bring forth each character’s individual identity was important. The play’s distinctiveness as a black comedy needed to come through despite the episodes of stark cruelty that take place, for example Ankush’s reaction to the innocent little girl’s drinking of the water from the dug-out well and the villagers consequent inhuman behaviour towards her. Also, his pronouncement of having the hair of the woman who dared to pluck a flower and wear it, cut off. The use of swear words and certain scenes with adult connotations (offering women to the swami), which were integral to the play, needed to be handled carefully so as not to offend the rustic uneducated, elderly and female audience when we performed in rural areas.’ Since the play did not specify the folk songs and dances therein, Avinash added songs and dances from both Catholic and Hindu traditions, emphasising Goa’s multi-religious culture. This was appreciated by the audience without an eyebrow being raised.

The young student actors must be commended for their lively acting and convincing interpretation of their characters. They worked well together with the same ‘chaitanya’ in the title of the play. The actors include: Amol Prabhugaonkar, Aniket Nangare, Meghan Narvekar, Narrottam Chari, Padma Bhat, Rajratna Kaushalya, Runal Kolkankar, Rushikesh Sawant, Sai Kalangutkar, Shubham Dhargalkar, Siddhesh Parab, Varsha Ashwekar, Vedang Gaude, Alisha Menezes, Samiksha Sawant, Vaibhav Naik, Valentine Sequeira, Gaurav Barve, Prutha Parab, Rakesh Bhonsle and Valancia D’Souza.

Other credits:

Music: Amol Prabhugaonkar, Gaurav Barve, Vedang Gaude, Atharva Kubal

Costumes: Prutha Parab

Set Design and Construction: Vaibhav Naik, Sai Kalangutkar, Prutha Parab

Lights: Ackyshma Fernandes

Make-up: Sagar Haldankar

Brochure design: Vaibhav Naik

Set Manager: Prutha Parab

Stage Manager: Ackyshma Fernandes