Vaikom Muhammmad Basheer Centenary celebrations at Ranga Shankara

It’s always nice to be able to go and attend when a writer whose work you respect has his centenary celebrations!

vaikom mohammed basheer road RS 230408

Perch, a theatre group based in Chennai, came to Ranga Shankara to celebrate a hundred years since the Malayalam writer, Vaikom Muhammad Basheer, was born. Perch has members from various backgrounds, and they are doing a great job of exploring the boundaries of theatre.

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There were three parts to the celebrations at Ranga Shankara: the adaption of seven of Basheer’s stories into a play, “Sangathi Arinhya!” by Perch; the Moplah food festival at the Ranga Shankara cafe by Anju Sudarshan; and the collection of photographs (“Images from Kozhikode”) and sketches (by Vasudevan Namboodiri) of Basheer and his world.

The collection of photographs and sketches were very interesting; it took us back to the world Basheer inhabited and took his inspiration from.

Here are some images:

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A sketch from the collection:

basheer sketches RS 230408

I did not, alas, get to taste the Moplah food, though….I realized it was on offer only after I had joined the queue, and didn’t want to gulp down food in a hurry. But I have always liked Anju’s food ….!

So to the play, which is a pastiche of 7 of Basheer’s stories in order of their being staged yesterday: Sthalathe Pradhana Divyan, Bhargavi Nilayam, Shabdangal, Poovan Pazham, Viswavikhyatamaya Mookku, Mathilukkal, and Oru Manushyan (which was a mainly silent tableau which took place after the break.) Some of the tableaus were revisited for a denouement after the break, too. The vignettes slipped into each other, with many of Basheer’s characters like Jameela Bibi, Abdul Khader, Otttakkan Pokker, Kandambarayan, and so on, making their appearance.

The navarasas were present in all the scenes….the love of the rowdy Khader for Jameela Bibi, the horror and disgust of the soldier who had to kill his friend who was in agony from his wounds, the eerieness of Basheer’s friendship with a dead woman,the absurdity of a nose that becomes world-famous….

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All the actors are now used to doing these plays as they had been done earlier in Chennai. And the command over the plays really comes through. Though there was a fair amount of slapstick and overstated humour, it was a mix of humour and seriousness.

The cast comprised, in alphabetical order, Aparna Gopinath, Hans Kaushik, Iswar Srikumar, Jagan P, Karuna Amarnath, Kaveri Lalchand, Malavika P C , Paul Mathew (who played Basheer himself, a startling look-alike!) Prakash Dharmarajan, Rashmi Devadasan, Srikrishna Dayal, and Vikas Grover. A very talented bunch indeed.

Also remarkable were both the stage settings (Kalpana Balaji and John Mathew). Several umbrellas depcited a tree and some vessels depicted the old HMV gramophone; some dinner plates depicted Basheer’s old vinyl records! A remarkable instance of stage properties themselves taking on other roles!

The script was also extremely well-written, and the dialogue never sounded forced on the ear. The make up (Niranjani Iyer) was very well-done, too, even of the comedic characters.

The costumes, designed by Kaveri Lalchand, were also excellent, with all the usual accessories of a Moplah life….the umbrella, the mundu, the lungis, the moplah girl’s head-dress…being well brought out on stage.

Mention must also be made of the music, by Vedanth Bharadwaj and Anushka Meenakshi. The lovely old songs chosen…”Babul mora” by Sehgal, other Hindi, Tamizh and Malayalam hits, culminating with “Kaatriniley Varum Geetham” by M S Subbulakshmi…really added to the atmosphere of the evening.

There was an excellent brochure given to all viewers, and though it dated from their Chennai performance, it was still an extremely well-produced one, and gave a lot of information about both Perch and Mohammed Basheer.

The only drawback to the play was the time…it is 130 mins, and with a ten-minute interval, that makes for a very long evening. Perhaps the stories could have been made 6 instead of 7, but given the prolific amount of Basheer’s work, the choice would have been a difficult one.

The play runs every evening at 7.30 am with shows at 3.30pm on Saturday 26th and Sunday the 27th. Strongly recommended.

Perch can be contacted at:

7 Bazullah Road, T.Nagar, Chennai 600017. Phone 99845 70784 (the Ranga Shankara program schedule gives the number as Chennai 99451 08610), and their email is

The Ranga Shankara telephone no is 2659 2777, email, and the website is

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