Adventures in Rangashankara #4: Under the Mangosteen Tree

Image credited to Perch, Chennai

First off, this is one of the first plays I have been to, which has witnessed unprecedented numbers standing in the queue trailing across the waiting hall in between Anju’s Café and Paperback Bookstore. The production even put together a projector at the online booking tickets counter which showcased Basheer’s pictures on to the white shirt of the man sitting at the counter. This is how you know the entire play and the efforts put into it, are a labour of love. 

It was practically a houseful show, I believe. If I still wanted to know the play’s enjoyability quotient was quite high despite the obvious demand for it, I only had to listen to the pre-play music.
The play had a music track that would have touched an older generation, or kids who kept track of the music of the previous century. Throwback tunes like Singin’ in the Rain, Sham-e-gham ki Qasam, and even the sound of rainfall were all a beautiful, especially since you can hear the scratchiness of a record player, too. The playlist in the play would be a wonderful mixtape to have. Actor Paul Matthews looks a lot like the Malayali Padmashri and Kerala Sahitya Academy award winning writer, freedom fighter and storyteller Vaikom Muhammad Basheer with what I noticed from the pictures from the projector displayed on a man’s white shirt.
Basheer is revered in Kerala as the respectable Beypore Sultan because he captured the unattainable and elusive high literature from up in the moon and planted it among the alleyways, chowrasiyas and chayakadas with crumbling brick houses and thatched huts.

Minimalist and simplistic, Basheer is also compared to Sadal Hassan Manto since their styles are measured by wit, irony and wry sarcasm infused with karuna rasa; stories of compassion. His experiences paints a larger than life picture, I bet the adaptation itself was a mountainous task.

There is a place called Beypore in Kozhikode which had a Mangosteen tree near a house where Basheer stayed, and sat under a Mangosteen tree, in an easy chair, narrating his stories to people.

His house is now a museum containing many colourful plastic bucket filled with records- blues, jazz music and old Hindi songs. Perch went right down to the  writer’s origins for research.  The production used plates for records. The scene manages to transport this image of Basheer lighting his bidi in time with his younger, jailed self and reclining into his easy chair, into our heads very realistically.

In fact, they use props as a MacGuyver would. This is a testament to their origins of practising with tyres stacked together as a well in a garage back in 2004 when they set up with “Moonshine and Skytoffee”.There is even a self aware moment where Mukkam’s long nose is called out for its rubbery texture, because, you see, it actually was a rubber hose pipe.Roses are a continuous presence in most of the stories, a lá Krzysztof Kieślowski threads.

Transmedia storytelling in Theatre comes across warmly and richly because Theatre as a medium is the best of all worlds. The presence of real people as characters right in front of you, allows for fourth wall breaking to be more special and intimate. 

Each story in the play within play format structure had a plot device which led to next one; this story as of yet incomplete. Although this kept everyone in the audience and the actors, too, on their toes, there was a slight abstractness in some of the stories which didn’t mesh altogether well with the continuity.

The stories in this play are Poovan Banana (Poovan Pazham), The Blue Light (Neela Velicham), Walls (Mathilukal), Voices (Shabdangal), The World Renowned Nose (Viswavikhayatamaya Mookku) and The Man (Oru Manushyan). On the stories themselves, I would very much like to read the books first.
I have watched a few Malayalam films. Agent K was from Christ Academy, which makes his understanding of the play, self explanatory. But Agent V was lost for much of the Malyali lines of the play, which had to be understood colloquially and socially, so as to to be completely appreciated.Agent K also pointed out that the throw away gesture, executed in the specific manner, was so quintessential of a typical Malyali person’s mannerisms. How wonderful that the play paid attention to such details.

 Aparna Gopinath made for the best Jamila Biriyani, although the domestic abuse played for laughs might have been quite out dated. 

The scene when all the characters greet Basheer and then fan him is a powerful and prideful moment. If for nothing else, the standing ovation is deserved for the respect shown to Basheer. 
RUN TIME: 150 minutes + 10 minutes interval
DIRECTOR: Rajiv Krishnan
WRITER: Vaikom Muhammad Basheer
ARTISTS: Paul Mathew, Iswar Srikumar, Aparna Gopinath, Rency Philip, Anand Sami, Ravindra Vijay, Ashiqa Salvan, Karuna Amarnath

Perch, Chennai Facebook page:

Disclaimer: All the images belong to their respective owners. No copyright infringement intended.



  1. We should definitely watch Padmarajan movies together! The 80’s Malayalam film vibe, strong screenplay and story-telling… It sounds amazing!


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