Marma Medai’s horror, suspense, and thriller genres a first for Kalaa Utsavam, says director Grace Kalaiselvi

Singapore-based playwright and director Grace Kalaiselvi brings interesting characters from the well-known Tamil radio-play series by MK Narayanan from the 1960s to the Kalaa Utsavam 2021 stage with her play Marma Medai – Theerppu (The Judgement).

The play revolves around five unsavory strangers waking up at a place with nowhere to go. Characters of the play are played by Pradhana Vizah winning actor Gayathri Segaran, Pramila Krishnasamy, Indumathi Tamilselvan, Karthikeyan Somasundaram, and Rebekah Sangeetha Dorai. Marma Media will be performed in Tamil with English surtitles and run between November 26 to 28.

Elements relating to COVID lockdown such as isolation and death are also explored
Elements relating to COVID lockdown such as isolation and death are explored in the show, says director Grace Kalaiselvi. Photo courtesy: Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay

Grace Kalaiselvi is a graduate of the Singapore-based Intercultural Theatre Institute theatre school. In addition to being a freelance theatre practitioner, she is an educator. She returns to Kalaa Utsavam this year after writing, directing, and acting in ‘Watching the World Go By’, a short skit as part of Pathey Nimidam last year.

She initiated and is a member of Brown Voices, a playwriting collective. Grace hopes to create more works representing suppressed and minority communities. Here is what she has to say about her upcoming show.

Connected to India (C to I): The play deals with people trapped in a room. Was it inspired by people being trapped during the COVID lockdown?

Grace Kalaiselvi: The COVID lockdown’s dark phase of uncertainty did influence my choice of plays that I had chosen from MK Narayanan’s famous 1960s Tamil radio drama series Marma Medai. One of the plays is about the entrapment of people in a dungeon and that inspired me to have an overall story arc about people trapped in a room. Elements relating to COVID lockdown such as isolation and death are also explored in this play.

Grace Kalaiselvi
Grace Kalaiselvi. Photo courtesy: ITI

C to I: What challenges did you face during rehearsal?

Grace Kalaiselvi: The need to respect and block the five actors keeping in mind the 1m safe distancing requirement and needing to start our initial phase of rehearsals via zoom. It is a physically exhaustive piece and so the actors had to work very hard to meet the needs of the play despite their numerous injuries.

C to I: What are you looking forward to most about performing in front of a live audience? 

Grace Kalaiselvi: To receive and connect with the breath and energy from the audience to give them a good sensorial exploration with the visual and audio treat lined up for them in this play.

C to I: How do you feel the Singapore performing arts circuit will bounce back from the pandemic? 

Grace Kalaiselvi: The pandemic situation has been a game-changer from the onset pushing Arts groups to adapt to the changes and challenges. Many have embraced technology and honed their skills in presenting their works on digital platforms. This has become a new norm for many and will be the way to go for the future of the arts scene here in Singapore. Producing content for digital platforms is also seen as a boon as the reach is beyond our borders.

C to I: What do you feel will attract Kalaa Utsavam fans the most to the play?

Grace Kalaiselvi: The horror, suspense, and thriller genres, which is a first in Kalaa Utsavam. The stellar ‘live’ casts Karthikeyan Somasundaram, Gayathri Segaran, Rebekah Sangeetha Dorai, Indumathi Tamilselvan and Pramila Krishnasamy and also the multimedia casts Vickneswary Se, Shafie, Kishore. Moreover, the play is using characters from the famous Tamil Radio Play – Marma Medai written by M K Naryanan, and loved by the Indian community at large.

C to I: Tell us about the cast and crew. How did you come together?

Grace Kalaiselvi: I needed trained actors because of the physically demanding nature of the work. Karthikeyan Somasundaram, Rebekah Sangeetha Dorai, Indumathi Tamilselvan, Pramila Krishnasamy, and Gayathri Segaran have either a theatre education or educator background and thus it was easier as we spoke a similar vocabulary as we devised and created this play.

C to I: What changes have you made to the original script to make it more relevant for modern audiences?

Grace Kalaiselvi: I chose five out of M K Narayanan’s 120 plus scripts because a particular character in each of the stories drew me in. Thus, the stories would be presented from the character’s perspective and each presented in different stylised manners making it very relevant for modern audiences.

The pandemic situation has been a game changer from the onset pushing Arts groups to adapt to the changes and challenges.
The pandemic situation has been a game changer from the onset pushing Arts groups to adapt to the changes and challenges, Grace said. Photo courtesy: Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay

C to I: What message would you like the viewers to come away with?

Grace Kalaiselvi: I am not settling for one message alone. The play would touch on the stories but also give a broader worldview of the perspective. To each, their own come away as they can differ based on the angle to look from.

Catch Marma Medai – Theerppu (The Judgement) at Esplanade Theatre Studio from November 26-28.

Tickets are available here.