By Rebekah Sangeetha Dorai
(1,150 words, 8-minute read)
The final instalment in Ravindran Drama Group’s trilogy, Adukku Veetu Annasamy 3, picks up right after the lovers Rajendran (Annasamy and Kokilavani’s son) and Prema (Panchatcharam and Gunasundari’s daughter) have parted ways. Their incessantly nosy neighbour, Sathiavathy, is cajoling the family into finding Prema a groom in India. The Annasamy family next door is dealing with an entirely different set of problems: Annasamy’s annoying and meddlesome brother-in-law has returned from India, much to the patriarch’s dismay.
The story is filled with punchlines, over-the-top situations and ridiculous fights as the young lovers grapple with the odds to be with each other, and the adults navigate conspiratorial schemes and internal arguments. Some burning questions were raised in the penultimate instalment: does Prema marry her long-time love or will she accept an arranged marriage? Will Annasamy and his best friend Arokiasamy finally be rid of his brother-in-law Panchanadam? Will his wife succeed in getting her brother to stay near them? And of course – will these questions be answered in a heart-stopping finale?
My response: Adukku Veetu Annasamy had great potential in its rigour, charm and wit – but was ultimately let down by shallow caricatures and an uneven cast.
This production kicks off in exactly the same way as past instalments – a radio clip introduces the show set in the 1970s, while the titular character Annasamy (V Mohan) walks onto the stage. Hearing the radio clip instantly transported me back in time to Adukku Veetu Annasamy 2. I can only imagine the feelings it must have brought up for those in the audience who had lived through that time period, listening to the radio play as they went about their lives. It was a simple and effective memory recall tool that pushed me up in my seat in anticipation for the hilarity the show promised. To my disappointment, however, the show I watched began on a lull. Mohan’s introduction was soft and his delivery failed to capture the rigour of the text that P. Krishnan had come to be known for. He seemed tired and his voice was hoarse. Thankfully, this dull opening was redeemed by actress Udaya Soundari, who plays his wife Kokilavani.
Soundari was undoubtedly the crowd pleaser of the show, drawing laughter and applause with a strong presence that commanded attention. However, many of her fellow actors failed to match her intensity and urgency. At certain moments, it seemed like she was affected by their lack of energy as some of the scenes ground to a halt. Despite these low-energy moments, Soundari remained resolute, navigating her character’s conversations, punchlines and physicality with determination and rigour.
But as soon as she left the stage, I found myself less interested in the rest of the first half of the play. Veeraraghavan as Panchanadam lifted the show with his enthusiasm and hilarious punchlines, but much of the ensemble’s acting veered between slapstick caricatures and overt exaggeration. The saving grace of the play was the text – which featured excellent wordplay, hilarious puns, and cheeky double entendres. The differences in languages as the characters navigated between English and Tamil proved very funny, particularly in conversations between Arokiasamy (Ravee Vellu) and Santhammal (Sajini). The scene where the couple fought for control over their marriage drove up the energy of the play as it approached the second half, and the show finally kicked into high gear when actresses Sajini and Soundari appeared together on stage. Their chemistry was a delight to watch. Their tight pacing and brisk comedic timing were a great example of what the play should have had throughout. Sajini brought her full force of personality and great heart into her character, making the lovable Santhammal a joy to watch.
Another moment I thought to be a highlight was the arrival of Dananjayan (Abbdul Kather). Moments like these were what I appreciated most about P. Krishnan’s dramatic writing, where an opportunity for comedy is blended with a provocation. Playing the dreamer who was initially arranged to be wed to Prema, Dananjayan converses in Tamil with a heavy English accent, peppering his dialogue with English idioms and phrases. In one particular scene, Dananjayan discusses the death of someone close to him and ends up confusing the term for “passing away” with that of “passing (an exam)”. This precise wordplay between English and Tamil had the audience rolling with laughter in their seats, but it was also thought-provoking in its ability to capture the growing frictions within the Tamil community in the 1970s. These differences in the use of language provided a sharp commentary about the place for Tamil language in Singapore. What happens when society becomes increasingly educated in English? How is it that someone so seemingly lacking in the Tamil language and culture is still seen as a better fit as a groom – as opposed to someone born and bred in Singapore? How can the younger generation and their waning interest in their mother tongue stack up against the older generation who still revere and converse in the rich verses of Tamil? As I watched the scene unfold, I realised that 35 years later, our fears are still not that different. The same worries that existed then continue to ring true today, and this scene was a stark reminder of P. Krishnan’s prescience of things to come.
In true Adukku Veetu Annasamy fashion, the play concludes with the entire cast gathering for a dramatic fight. This was a wonderful comedic idea, but I longed for a sharper physical vocabulary and clearer movements from the cast. The blocking felt messy and unimaginative, and I struggled to see some of the actors clearly. As a result, I missed a couple of key moments and it took me some time to catch up to the rest of the story and what the characters were fighting about. Throughout the scene, the only desire I had was to see Sajini again. No fight is complete without the feisty roar of the salacious Santhammal, and without her, the scene felt lacking. My wish was granted at the very end, however, and my heart rejoiced as Santhammal stepped out to deliver one last fierce blow upon her husband, an appropriate payoff for making us wait for it throughout the play.
Overall, I thought the play was satisfactory. Ravindran Drama Group has managed to give an adequate ending to a tried-and-tested formula. Beyond comedy, it was the relatability and accessibility of the characters that kept audiences coming back for more, and this instalment of Adukku Veetu Annasamy was no different. The richness of the text was a delight to hear, and Indians have never been known to refuse an opportunity for comedy. A fully dedicated cast, a sharper pace, tighter performances and an increased effort in dramaturgy could have made this performance an absolute riot and given it the full-powered, explosive ending this trilogy so rightfully deserved.
Adukku Veetu Annasamy 3 was presented at the Esplanade’s Theatre Studio from 2 to 4 February 2018. It was a commission by Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay as part of its Raga series of programmes.
Guest Contributor Rebekah Sangeetha Dorai is an actor, singer, and voiceover artist based in Singapore.