Review:The Flame of the Forest

“Flame of the Forest” (8th and 9th Sept 07)

This play is an adaptation, by Gowri Ramnarayanan, of the Tamizh
classic, Sivakamiyin Sabatham . It was a combination of drama, carnatic music and bharatanatyam.

The play is about Sivakami, a dancer in Kanchi, the capital of the
Pallava empire.

Sivakami’s romance with the crown prince Mamalla is broken
up by the king, Mahendra Pallava, though he is a great patron of the
fine arts.. When the Chalukya king, Pulakeshin, comes to Kanchi, he
tries to win him over as a friend rather than fighting him unprepared.
Pulakeshin,however, takes away Sivakami to Vatapi, where the crown
prince comes to rescue her disguised as a trader. Sivakami refuses,
vowing that she will return to Kanchi only when delivered by an army.
However in the nine years it takes for this effort, her ideas undergo
a change. On her return, with her paramour married elsewhere,she
dedicates herself to Ekamreshwara, the deity of Kanchi, as a
devadasi.Mahendra Pallava’s general Paranjyothi finds that victory in
a war is bitter and becomes a travelling mendicant. He narrates the
story initially.

Seven of us got together after the play and discussed it;the review is
the consensus opinion.

The singing, the nattuvangam, and the dances were of a very high
standard, and were very integral to the play. The costumes were really
beautiful and added to the mood of the play. The lighting was also
well-handled; and simply designed sets denoted the various settings of
the play, most of us felt.

The device of having a younger and an older Sivakami (after the passage
of twenty-five years) on stage at the same time, was very effective, particularly in the sequence
where the older Sivakami sings, and both enact the abhinaya. However,
the way the Sutradhar simply disappeared from the focus after a time,
with the focus shifting to Sivakami, was a little puzzling, and it
broke the narrative a little.

Another thing we all felt was that at the end of the play, there were
no introductions of the artistes at all. I *think* that Gowri
Ramnarayanan herself played the elder Sivakami, but I am not sure.
Also, some of the main actors did not appear to take their bows at

The brochure, too,did not give any names; the only two names I got (Deesh
Mariwala as Mahendra Pallava, and V Balakrishna as Paranjyothi) were
from the Indian Express review. Neither was there any website or other
info given about JustUs Repertory, who staged the show.But in spite of
what we felt to be these drawbacks, one neither needed a knowledge ot
Tamizh or of the original novel by Kalki, to appreciate some good

2 Comments so far

  1. Gowri Ramnarayan (unregistered) on September 14th, 2007 @ 4:15 pm

    Hi Deepa,
    A friend of mine sent me your review of Flame of the Forest. Thank you for the attention you have given to all the details. Also the fact that 7 of you took the trouble to discuss the play gives me a great feeling.

    Your point about introducing the actors is taken. We will do a better job next time. Our JustUs cast and crew tends to feel diffident about “taking a bow” after the show. But others besides you have told me that they want to know who we are. So in the future…

    Yes, it was Gowri Ramnarayan who played the older Sivakami.

    I’m so glad you liked the music. Thats what I enjoyed most — composing the music I mean. While the small jatis were mine, the long and lovely jati in sankirna jati tala that Sivakami dances to in court was composed by Bhagavatulu Sitarama Sharma, a very fine composer and singer. He is the guru of Carnatic vocalist T.M.Krishna.

    I will look into the “puzzling point”. The play was as you know, told by Paranjoti,. 25 years after the Vatapi war. He was the narrator, now turned doctor. The epilogue was told by Sivakami, also 25 years after the war. Let me see how I can make this clearer.
    Thanks again,

  2. R.Murugesan (unregistered) on September 29th, 2007 @ 12:34 pm

    I was one of the few audience in the Museum theatre yesterday for the “Flames of the forest”. The play is a rare combination of music,dance and a serious story line. It was truely a very sweet and memorable experience. Honestly, I was sitting spell bound throughout.I have never been to a serious play before,although I have been frequenting music halls now and then,looking for wholesome experience. I now realise what I have been missing.

    Hats off to Mrs.Gowri Ramnarayan.

    As for the thin attendance in the hall, I certainly feel very sad. A serious play such as this, with all the ingredients for popular appeal could attract only a few people calls for reflection.

    I personally feel the play could have been in Tamil in order to enlist and enliven a larger audience.

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