Written and directed by Sashirekka Rountan, M.R.T. – For Women, By Women, features a star-studded cast and is gearing up to thrill audiences in March 2017. We speak to the director and cast to find out more about the women-centric production.
When we heard that 2Tango Dazzle, a local Indian theatre company has a stage play with an all-female cast lined up, we were dying to know more details. Afterall, it’s not everyday you come across a play that boasts a prominent cast made up entirely of actresses who have graced the local Indian television scene. Dhivyah Raveendran, Meshanthe Manickam, Nithiyia Rao, Prasakthi Allagoo and Sajini Naidu star in M.R.T. – For Women, By Women.
So what’s this play all about? Five women are stuck in a cabin on a train that has come to a halt. What could possibly happen? You’ll have to hop onboard to find out! ChutneySG caught up with the six lovely ladies (director Sashirekka included) for a chat on M.R.T. which will be arriving in 14 days’ time. Please stand behind the yellow line and mind the platform gap when boarding!
What inspired you to write and direct a female-centric play in Tamil?
S.R.: I have been in the Tamil theatre scene since 2003 and have never really seen any women-centered Tamil play and that got me pondering. Thus, M.R.T was born in 2009. Yes, it was as early as that. It has been an idea I have been toying with since then. It was inspired by a play I watched – The Vagina Monologues. The production which featured just three women had no boundaries and was very real. And boom! The ideas came flowing and soon culminated in M.R.T.
Is this an entirely original script?
S.R.: Yes, it is an entirely original script. But then again, as story-loving humans, we always draw inspiration from and relate things to our own experiences of life. Though it is mostly fictional, I would be lying if I say that there are no real-life events at all in this story. One man’s imagination could be another’s life, right? Afterall, as Ernest Hemingway said:
Imagination? It is the one thing besides honesty that a good writer must have. The more (S)he learns from experience the more (S)he can imagine.
Would you agree that there is a severe lack of female-centred productions within the local Indian community?
S.R.: Yes, that is true. There is nothing to deny about that. That is the unfortunate state today but there are various possible reasons for it. One main reason could be that there is a lack of females in the Tamil theatre industry, especially those in the front line who assuming roles such as director and scriptwriter. But I guess this could be a start? *smiles*
Do you think it takes a female director to churn out a quality women-centred production?
S.R.: Not at all! In fact, I choose to believe that it’s the other way round. Some of the best female-centred productions have come from men. Having had to handle women these many years, men have developed the capability to view us from different perspectives. On one hand, women may sometimes have a highly-opinionated view. On the other, men are sometimes inspired by women and it naturally shows in their work, so no complaints there! Also, the working relationship and chemistry differs between the genders and hence the difference in final products.
Three out of five of your cast members are fresh faces where theatre is concerned. Was this a challenge?
S.R.: A famous quote shared commonly by some whom I know in the local theatre industry:
Every production has its own challenges.
Haha. Jokes aside, I don’t see it as a challenge but another new experience. Given the aforementioned lack of women in the industry, I believe it’s vital to introduce more. And this is one of the key points of focus for 2Tango Dazzle. Yes, it’s a steep learning curve and perhaps even somewhat of a risk I am taking in exploring with an all-female production. But hey, if not now, then when? Besides, I have a great team of women championing this together with me, so get ready to be amazed!
Why should women come down to catch M.R.T. by 2Tango Dazzle?
Behind every woman, is a tribe of other women who have her back.
S.R.: When women support each other, incredible things like M.R.T happen. I guess I need not say more but if I have to… Are you ready to laugh your wits out? Just come on down and have an awesome girls night out with us – let loose and have some fun! Oh, and Happy International Women’s Day in advance! Let’s celebrate us!
What’s the best part about starring in a production with an all-female cast?
Dhivyah: A sense of empowerment is what I gain from my experiences with my fellow female cast members. Soulful performances, colourful personalities, objective criticism, and a stage where the limelight is shared equally. There is so much of talent, grace and tenacity exhibited by these women and there is never a dull moment. One major perk of an all-women cast: we gelled almost instantly!
Could you share with us any funny incidents that took place during rehearsals?
Dhivyah: There were not one but plenty of laugh-out-loud moments that were so infectious. I made a huge blooper once during rehearsals with just one word that changed the entire meaning of my line – “post mortem” (you’ll understand when you watch it). Everyone picked up on it immediately and it had them in fits of laughter almost instantaneously. We eventually incorporated that into the play. Sakthi’s witty ad libs can be thoroughly amusing. Rehearsals are always filled with surprises – that’s what you get with creative women.
You stepped into the local media industry only recently. How has the M.R.T. journey been for you so far?
Meshanthe: The journey has been really something different since I’m part of a stage play for the first time. I have learnt so many new skills from this experience, such as how to project your voice accordingly. Being given this opportunity to play a comical character was akin to discovering a fortune for me as I have always loved comical plays and have always wanted to be part of one.
Ever felt intimidated by the acting prowesses and vast experience of your fellow cast members?
Meshanthe: Honestly, I did feel intimidated in the beginning but thereafter I was happy as I was able to learn a lot from them. Their length of experience in acting has been a good learning lesson for me. What more can I ask for when I have such wonderful co-artistes to work with?
How does the character you play in M.R.T. differ from the one you played in Adukku Veetu Annasaamy last year?
Sajini: I play the character Amreet in M.R.T. In a modern world, she is traditional. Her perspectives on education, love, and marriage are rigid; everything has to be done ‘properly’. Therefore, she struggles with finding her place in modern society and ends up being suppressed. Santhammal, on the other hand, is the complete opposite. Though a ‘kampung girl,’ she doesn’t conform to the more traditional ‘husband rules the house’ practice and is bold and ‘gung-ho’ – very unexpected of a lady from that era.
Santhammal is quick to learn and adapt whereas Amreet is rigid and suppressed. I enjoy playing both as I draw parallels from each of them. Sajini is part Santhammal, part Amreet. Those who know me well would know. *winks*
Which of these characters do you prefer playing?
Sajini: Well, that’s a tough question. I love each and every role I get to play and each has its own set of challenges. They both differ very much yet are close to my heart because of personal reasons. And because of that, it’s going to be difficult for me to single out either one of those characters. Maybe you should come watch and tell me which role YOU preferred me in!
Basically, everyone needs to come down and watch this play. It’s very different. How different? You come and watch lah!
How does acting on stage differ from acting in television dramas?
Nithiyia: There are pros and cons where acting for television is concerned. Television dramas give us the luxury of correcting our lines and improvising our performances. But we do not have the luxury of time to work on character development and body language. You have to be versatile enough to understand your role and switch personalities or mannerisms within a short period of time.
Stage acting requires more energy, bigger actions and perfection in our performance. Hence, we are given months to rehearse in order to produce a one-take wonder. We also need to be witty enough to handle the mistakes we might make in front of a live audience by improvising accordingly. Acting on stage requires a whole different kind of energy.
Amongst the characters you have played on television, which is your favourite and why?
Nithiyia: I love the character Aruna I played in the drama series Kaaviya. It was the most challenging character I have played till date. It covered three contrasting phases of life. A student, a wife and a 47-year-old mother. I was challenged to work on and perfect all three characters within a very short period of time.
The role itself was physically and mentally draining but I enjoyed doing it very much. Aruna made me understand my capabilities as an actress.
Do you prefer acting in television dramas or on stage?
Nithiyia: I started off as a television actress, hence I would say I enjoy acting in television dramas more. Perhaps I have to be part of more stage plays in future for a change in preference.
What will be the biggest learning lesson for the audience, especially women, who come to watch M.R.T.?
Prasakthi: That women are women’s greatest source of strength, energy and inspiration. That mothers, sisters and girlfriends are people with whom relationships are forged with strength that can withstand any challenge. With other women by their side, women can rise up to any challenge with the unwavering belief that they can conquer it!
M.R.T. – For Women, By Women, will be staged at Aliwal Arts Centre with the support of the National Arts Council and Arts Fund. For tickets and other enquiries, please call 8624 6203. Tickets are going at $25 (students), $30 (Leisure Lounge) and $35 (Cocktail Chill).
Show dates: 9 March (Thursday) – 7.30pm, 10 March (Friday) – 4pm & 7.30pm, 11 March (Saturday) – 3pm & 7.30pm.
Images courtesy of Ma Diviyatharsini.