Vidiyal 3, a joint effort by the Indian Cultural Groups (ICG) of four local polytechnics took to the stage on 26 March 2016, at the Tan Cheng Siong Drama Theatre at Anglo-Chinese School, Barker Road. How did the production that is into its third instalment fare? Find out here.
Before I delve into the highlight of the production, its script, I would first like to address how the production opened. The first segment featured a live performance of a medley of songs. Although this bore no association to the plot in any way, the consolation was that the audience was treated to an evergreen mix of tunes from the 90s. Thumbs up to the song selection which, I’m sure, delighted more than just myself. That followed with a dance medley. Once again, this was not affiliated to the production’s storyline. The LED backdrop which accompanied the dancers was unnecessary; it was distracting, harsh on the eyes, and took away attention that should have been paid to the dancers themselves. The “கண்ணோடு காண்பதெல்லாம்” portion of the medley deserves special mention for its well put-together costumes.
Song and dance aside, let me address the essence of Vidiyal 3 – its plot. Prior to its staging, the production’s director and scriptwriter, Nishmen Nair, had promised realism in Vidiyal 3’s storyline in an interview with ChutneySG. The young talent has kept to his word. Vidiyal 3’s script was undoubtedly its strength. It was kept simple, mostly realistic and addressed some crucial issues plaguing Indian society today. The selection of songs within this musical was appropriate for the plot; none stuck out like a sore thumb.
The elementary plot revolves around the Menons. Husband and wife, Mr & Mrs Ranjeeth Menon, eldest sister, Rohini Menon, middle child and only son, Rakesh Menon, and youngest sister, Ranjini Menon, form the calamity prone Menon clan. What struck me foremost about the plot was that the Menons could easily serve as an accurate representation of any middle-class Indian family. The parents have been ‘stuck’ in an arranged marriage for three decades. The father is a strict military man who is unable to draw boundaries between the workplace and home. The mother is a housewife who is unable to speak up against her husband. The elder daughter has agreed to an arranged marriage due to her father’s persistence. The son of the family has issues with communicating with his father. The younger daughter struggles with self-esteem issues because she is plus-sized and simultaneously serves as the cement that keeps the Menon family together. Sounds familiar?
Here are some notions from the musical which would have resonated with the Indian audience, especially women.
A woman is not complete till she is married.
Rohini Menon is portrayed as an independent woman thriving in the corporate world. But does her success make her parents happy? No. She is seen as unsuccessful till she becomes a man’s wife. As frustrating as that sounds, it is still believed in unwaveringly by many Indian oldies out there.
A marriage does not need love to survive.
Mr & Mrs Ranjeeth Menon have been married for thirty years and are the parents of three grown-up children. Theirs was an arranged marriage. At one point of the plot, Mrs Menon questions her son, “Do you think I have been in love with your father all these years?” Even a blind man can see that there has been no display of affection towards Mrs Menon by Mr Menon. The key to survival then? Tolerance. I can safely say that there are many more “Mr & Mrs Menon”s out there who have been stuck in loveless marriages since the 1980s.
It is acceptable for a man to cheat on his wife no matter the circumstances.
Rohini Menon is married off to a man she does not wish to live with. Initially, he tries to make her fall in love with him. It does not work. Eventually, he cheats on her with another woman when she is about to experience a change of heart. Guess who apologises in the end? That’s right – Rohini, the woman, apologises when there was no need for her to. The icing on the cake? Her father demands that she gets her husband back by begging him to despite knowing that it was his son-in-law who was unfaithful to his daughter. *a round of sarcastic applause*
Indian mothers are also to blame for the rise of patriarchy.
Rakesh, the only son, visits his mother and sister at home after a prolonged period of time. He says he is hungry. Naturally, his mother is all too glad to oblige her only son. However, when her younger daughter voices her hunger and states what she would like, she is blatantly ignored by her mother. Ask any young Indian woman who has an older brother, and she will provide you with many more examples of patriarchy fuelled by Indian mothers.
The ‘happiest’ person in the family is usually the most troubled one.
We have all definitely come across a ‘Ranjini Menon’ in our lives. She’s that person who goes the extra mile to keep everyone around her smiling. The kind who exhausts herself in the process of gelling a clan together. The type who places the needs of others ahead of her own. This is the type of person who is actually undergoing serious mental and emotional turmoil beneath the surface. But no one knows – till the tragic end.
Indian culture considers it acceptable to pair ‘unworthy’ men with ‘worthy’ women.
The deliberate casting of an average Joe as the would-be date of Ranjini Menon on Valentine’s Day is pure genius on the part of the director. It drives home the idea that Indian culture has been advocating for so many centuries – that it is alright to burden worthy women with an unworthy husband. Of course, we need to step away from being superficial – the terms ‘worthy’ and ‘unworthy’ are not restricted to one’s appearances alone; they extend to capabilities and character traits as well. Whichever the case, Indian culture deems it appropriate to place the woman at a disadvantage.
Any man can be a father – it takes effort to be a Dad.
Mr Ranjeeth Menon adopts the strict practices of the army within the household as well. Not cool considering that his children are not his recruits. His wife is afraid of voicing her contrary opinions to him and his children have no choice but to ‘respect’ him simply because he fathered them. Okay, so he might have paid for their education – but that does not make him a loving father. At the very least, a man’s children should be able to share with him their fears and hopes comfortably, without the fear of repercussion. Unfortunately, not everyone out there is blessed with a Dad.
Having addressed real issues which demand change, Vidiyal 3’s script was its major plus point and thankfully, its actors did justice to this all too relatable storyline. The production, despite its relatively amateur crew, has managed to set itself apart from the likes of other similar musicals by the ICGs of tertiary institutions.
This editor looks forward to more scripts and productions spearheaded by Nishmen Nair.
Images courtesy of Thulz Photography.