Khasakkinte Itihasam comes alive on stage

Deepan Sivaraman’s drama Khasak, unlike O V Vijayan’s Novel –from which it’s adapted- begins with a parade of the dead. The souls of the beloved characters from Khasak make a stroll down memory lane, holding palm leaf torches, accompanied by a monologue – The inception of Khasak, their first legend.

Then, Deepan takes the audience to a memory, the moment protagonist Ravi becomes a fugitive. Ravi is reading a letter from his father. Soon after he finished it, Ravi goes back in time to rebuild the melancholic memory of his first sexual experience with his step mother. In a moment of piousness he screams in his head, sting by sin and morbid pleasures. He opens his eyes to find himself sitting in Kooman Kavu, the end of the bus route – the place from where O V Vijayan’s novel unfolds.

Khasakinte Itihasam, written by O V Vijayan is regarded as his masterpiece and arguably the best work of fiction in Malayalam literature. Khasak, as it is been fondly called, is a novel of epic proportions, something that stood the test of time to become the defining point in Malayalam Fiction. Critics revered Khasak, released in 1969, as the book that divided the novel tradition of Malayalam.

Khasakinte Itihasam is better known for its complex language and subtle craft, both easy roadblocks for anyone putting an effort to adapt it into any form of art. However, Deepan Sivaraman, a seasoned theatre artist pulled off the unimaginable, gave Khasak quite a brilliant adaptation to stage.

Deepan’s Khasak unravels in the darkness. Lights, shadows, music and imageries are the tools of communication. In the first half, Deepan’s Khasak goes on toes with the Novel. His actors are stunning, especially Allappicha Mollaka and Kuppuvachan, both are original and steadfast with the language and acting. Deepan weaves the story around Naijamali, who is actually the tour de force in the drama. He borrows dialogues from OV Vijayan to implicate the real feeling of the Palakkad dialect but at times, he shows no qualms in making some value additions, whether it is in the love act of Naijam and Maimuna or in the dramatic farewell of Naijam Ali when he was ousted by Allappicha.

As an antidote for the perplexed narrative of the novel, Deepan resorts a visual language, combining elements of video projections and authentic Pyrotechnics. As the drama reaches its second half, Deepan gains more freedom, with his style often gets amateur to wedge away from the Novel. Deepan employs different techniques of storytelling such as using symbolic videos and art house-like sequences in an apparent effort to present the drama in an independent form but which sometimes forces the audience to withdraw from the performance.

But, the drama ends with the best possible twist to the famous ‘snake bite’ scene in the Novel. Here, the grim ending in the Novel is polished for the theatre. It was indeed worth the risk he took. Deepan’s Khasak is without any doubt, a compelling drama, which in a sense is an incredible feat when you compare with the novel Legends of Khasak.

The drama is one of the best original and experimental works in a very long time, a bold adaptation and surely is a milestone, which in the long run will surely inspire more creative works that could bridge the great Malayalam literature with the thriving theater scene in Kerala and India alike.

Featured Image: Deepan Sivaraman’s play Khasak

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