Did NTU Tamil Literary Society’s yearly cultural night, Mocha 2017, live up to expectations? We take a look back to bring you the hits and misses.

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I’ll be frank. When I first heard that NTU TLS’ annual cultural production had been dubbed ‘Mocha’ this year, I was puzzled. What does a popular variant of a caffeinated beverage have to do with an Indian performing arts production by a tertiary institution? After catching the show and some further pondering, it all made sense. A typical caffé mocha consists espresso, milk and chocolate. The bitter espresso and sweet chocolate are symbolic with regards to Mocha 2017’s tagline: மோதலும் காதலும். Bitter conflicts and sweet (or sometimes bittersweet) love – ingenious. Now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about why Mocha 2017 worked on the overall.

In an interview with ChutneySG, NTU TLS promised a mix of song, dance, drama and live band items that would get one thinking and urged audiences to come with an open mind. The production, which was divided into eleven segments, delivered what it had promised. Not sticking to a linear plot allowed the production to examine various pressing issues in our society today.

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Touchy themes such as elitism and racism were explored in the opening sequence, Mark of Man. My only gripe here was the predominant usage of the English language. Though understandable since the lyrics and dialogue utilised words like ‘evolution’ which might possibly be lost in translation for the general audience if painstakingly translated to Tamil, it did not set the stage for a cultural night by a Tamil Literary Society. Having said that, I also have to add that the original compositions and rap portions were pretty impressive. Two thumbs up for the quartet (Tevaryan Thiagarajan, Vivekanand, Ramakrishna Santhira Segaran and Nashvinntherann) behind it!

Kaathalvaasi and KanMANi were two segments which particularly stood out thanks to their respective approaches to controversial, rarely-talked-about themes: LGBT people and a marriage of convenience that involves the former. Oi the alien (played oh so adorably by Hafizah Beevi) explores the planet, Earth 4.0, where Gautham and Jayanthi are seen preparing for their marriage set to happen in a matter of minutes. The couple exchanges rings, only to later return them to each other and walk off hand in hand with their bridesmaid and best man. The portrayal of their sexual orientation is so subtle (a brief looking into each partner’s eyes and holding his/her hand) that it might have simply flown over the heads of the less intellectual and observant amongst us.

The segment titled KanMANi is essentially a mini musical that revolves around Kanmani who tries to convey a long withheld secret to her boyfriend. As I flipped through the programme brochure prior to the show, I wondered why the title of the segment was printed such: KanMANi, with M-A-N in block letters. In a surprise twist towards the end of this mini musical, it is revealed that Kanmani is actually a transgender woman – that was her big secret which was not well received by her heterosexual boyfriend. Though this segment merely scratched the surface of the pressing issue that is transphobia, it is to be lauded as a step in the right direction. Kudos to the gutsy scriptwriters of KanMANi. 

Another one of my favourite segments in Mocha 2017 was Dushyasana Within. It addressed misogyny, which nearly every single Indian female would have had a brush with when growing up in the local Indian community, in the most realistic of manners. Needless to say, Dushyasana Within was a treat for the feminists amongst the audience who voiced their approval of the relatable script with thunderous applause.

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Those of you who’re familiar with the Hindu epic, Mahabharata, will know that Dushyasana attempts to disrobe Draupadi. From rape to the verbal putting down of women (sometimes by older women themselves), Draupadi (played by Ishwaryalakshmi Ramalingam) clad in a blood red sari is symbolically disrobed bit by bit with each passing misogynistic incident. Scriptwriters Suganthi Periasamy, Rubaneshwaran, and Kalaivani Murugappan have done justice to the portrayal of gender inequality.

Kaathal Sadugudu did not work for me. What was meant to be a story about love and misunderstandings without the use of dialogue but only songs, visuals and dance, fell flat. Although the team of vocals for this segment was a decent one, the lack of dialogues and the use of repeated visuals was irksome at some points. This segment, I felt, was probably the most draggy one out of all eleven and could have been better executed in order to convey the notion that love is often intertwined with misunderstanding. Its insertion also slowed down the pace of the second half of the production drastically.

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Just when I thought the highly anticipated comic element was missing, enter Koomootai. Directed by Fina Jahan and AR Subbu Adaikalavan, this hilarious segment had us bursting into peals of laughter. The inclusion of Malayalam and Telugu not only provided comic relief but also served to remind the audience how diverse Indian culture is. The scene in which Sornakka’s sidekick tries to handle a telephone conversation in Telugu by spewing out names of Tollywood heavyweights at random was particularly rib-tickling. I think it’s also safe to say that Koomootai saves the significantly slower paced second half of Mocha 2017.

Was Mocha 2017 entertaining? On the overall, yes. Did it deliver its promise to venture into unexplored territories and get the audience to ponder on societal issues? Yes, and yes. Having been neatly packaged into segments allowed the production to provide the audience with bite-sized morsels to chew on without compromising on entertainment. Oh, and one thing’s for sure. From the scriptwriters and directors to the dancers and singers, it’s evident that every single person involved in Mocha 2017 has given their best to churn out an out-of-the-box production. I hope they will continue doing so and will await their next production. Latte, perhaps?

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Images courtesy of ShotsBySara and VinKlickz.

Written by Uma Nathan

Full-time sub-editor. Part-time writer, copywriter, and editor all rolled into one. Photography, travel, food, reading and teaching take up whatever time remains.

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