A month on, we examine the fourth installation of Nishmen Nair’s cultural production series, Vidiyal. What worked and what didn’t in Vidiyal 4: Devadasi? Find out.
When Vidiyal 4: Devadasi’s trailer was first released on various social media platforms, it seemed highly promising. It deviated from mainstream themes we have been exposed to via Indian cinema and cultural productions by local tertiary institutions and chose to focus on the sombre but pressing issues of human trafficking and prostitution. Highly ambitious subject matters for a young director to grapple with and bring to stage and screen realistically.
And that’s how it falls short of expectations. Realism. It was largely absent for the most part of the production. When one explores grave themes like human trafficking and prostitution, one should bear in mind that there isn’t much room for loopholes. Though it was purely fictional, Vidiyal 4: Devadasi failed to put across to the audience the actual plight of underprivileged young sex workers.
The tale follows Menaka (Jothiletchmi Selvam), a young Malaysian Indian classical dance teacher who is conned into the trade; she’s informed that a bright future awaits in neighbouring Singapore. Cue major loophole number one: though frowned upon, prostitution is legal here on our tiny red dot. Overlooking this fact leaves a major dent in the realism of the production which depicts a brothel run in secrecy. Many more other loopholes follow – it’s easy to spot them if you entered the Blackbox at Goodman Arts Centre armed with a set of expectations from what seemed like a promising production. So let’s not delve further into the plot as it didn’t offer anything particularly outstanding.
Let’s talk about the talented young cast and performers instead. Without a doubt, Vidiyal 4: Devadasi crossed the finish line thanks to its cast who made the production watchable from start to end. A quarter of the way into the story, one realises that the plot is flawed and disappointing. What do you do then? Focus on the acting prowesses of the fresh cast.
Prakash Arasu is convincing as the young Ajay who musters the courage to propose to his pregnant girlfriend, Rathi, played by Sharon Roosevelt. As far as this modest cast is concerned, Sharon, in my opinion, is the cream of the crop. Her portrayal of Rathi leaves the audience yearning to see more of her on screen. – she is naive and swelling with courage all at the same time. Her tears alone speak volumes. Unfortunately, Rathi meets with a premature death.
Dhurga Lingasparan, who makes her stage debut alongside Prakash, does justice to the character she plays – Hema. First as the affectionate younger sister and then as the desperate traitor, she transitions from good to evil rather effortlessly. Being one of a pair who grace the stage in the opening scene sure must be taxing, but the young debutant doesn’t crack under pressure. She delivers her lines in fluent Tamil – and quite a significant chunk, mind you – flawlessly. And then there’s Ambigai Uthaman as Maya, the ringleader. The dramatic background music that accompanies her entry into a scene as well as her dominating onscreen presence made us want to see more of her. Cue Ramya-Krishnan-in-Padaiyappa vibes.
With regards to the structure of the production, alternating between stage and screen does not do the themes any favours. It distracts more than anything else. Also, instead of placing just one prostitute’s tale in the limelight and telling a single story, it would have been more ideal to incorporate several sub-plots concerning a group of females tricked into the taboo trade. That would have brought out the plight of this marginalised group of women better. The insertion of live singing and dance items at different points of the story, though suitable, somehow subdued the impact of the serious themes at hand.
Speaking of song and dance, credit must be given where it is due. The singers and dancers alike succeeded in capturing the attention of the audience whenever they took to the stage. The opening item comprising a medley of songs from Tamil cinema in the 1980s and the dance item that followed with evergreen classics from the nineties were particularly pleasing. The energy levels displayed by the girls who conquered the stage with their ஆளான நாள் முதலா number (choreographed by Thulasi Seda Raman) were absolutely amazing. Special mention to Shivabala Mahendran for putting together a set of sleek moves for the Prahbhu Deva Tribute medley.
In the concluding paragraph of the Director’s Note printed in the production’s brochure, director Nishmen states:
I can never guarantee a flawless production, but instead, I can guarantee a show that has lots of heart put in from each and every performer and crew member.
We have to say that he kept his promise.
Images courtesy of Rafie’s Photography.