Theatre of the absurd

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The grossly apocryphal reportage on the death of actor Anil P Nedumangad once again revealed the deep chasm that exists between cinema and other art forms and the undue hegemony it maintains over them. A few roles that Anil portrayed impressively in films were enough to bracket him as a ‘promising’ actor, which in cinema lingo is an artful term for an ‘upstart’ talent. What followed his untimely death in the glimmering green waters of Malankara Dam on Christmas Day was a deluge of reportage that not just lifted him out of the wavy, vile waters of the mundane world, but placed him up above the cycloramic sky, among the diminutive stars who suddenly lost their shimmering lights.

In fact, no one can be blamed for such excesses given that news media and cinema knew little about the trained actor, his potentials, and the person whom his friends and colleagues recall as a naive and hyperactive man with a notoriously acerbic tongue and a moonlit heart.

Anil is incomplete without his greed for acting, love for friends, and devotion to the works of Albert Camus, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Dostoyevsky. Far from being a novice, he was a veteran actor who made an indelible imprint in modern theatre. I had an opportunity to co-organize and watch his stunning performance in a play adaptation of Willian Golding’s “Lord of the Flies”, if not mistaken, in 1996. Anil was second to none as a source of intense energy on the stage.

He played major roles in almost all plays directed by his bosom friend, guide, and classmate Jyothish M G besides appearing in dramas directed by Surjith and Deepan Sivaraman. He also acted with seasoned theatre actors like D Raghoothaman, Jose P Raphael, Gopalan, Rajan, and James Elia ..(the list is incomplete) Of course, cinema enthused Anil. He was not among those artists who declared stage as the only world from where they get the right kick. He joined the School of Drama and Fine Arts in Thrissur to chisel his acting talents and ready himself for the world of motion pictures.

But it was not fame and money that he was looking for. He got his kicks out of acting. His huge success as a trained theatre actor for over the past 25 years had made him an acting addict. The actor in him tormented him when he was out of action. The love and concern for those close to him is evident in a recent message he sent to a former school of drama student: “In the time of corona you can’t make plays, I know. You write a poem, instead. I’m itching to pay you.”

On another occasion, he sent a voice clip to Jyothish, the head of the acting department at K R Narayanan Film Institute: “If I do something great in cinema, it could happen only in your film. My liver won’t start giving trouble till then, I’m sure.”

But, mediums other than theatre got to see very little of his talent. There is no point in blaming those who know him only for his role in “Ayyappanum Koshiyum” when the refreshing talent vanished abruptly from the screen. However, it points at the intimidating level of authority that cinema as a medium has managed to establish over other art forms. For all his new admirers, he was the one whom they saw on screen. Nothing more, nothing less.

“Media works in currency. What is most important for the news media is the immediate present. They connect only with it. The coverage is bound to be incomplete and is directly proportional to the fame, not merit. Look at the difference between the news coverages on the deaths of lyricist Anil Panachooran and poet Neelamperoor Madhusoodanan Nair. Celebration of the present and adoration of the larger-than-life-size image projected on screen outshine everything else,” says film critic C S Venkiteswaran.

The challenge faced by obit writers in newsrooms is such that it wholly hinges on the immediately available information. A couple of unsolicited quotes from film stars and political leaders make the newsroom exercise relieving, if not gratifying. But to assess an actor only on the basis of his association with the silver screen is nauseating, if not loathsome. Given a chance, Anil would have repeated what Mark Twain had said about the reports on his death: “The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated,” adding in a derisive tone, “I don’t see myself in those reports.”



Views expressed above are the author’s own.


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