Gaajina Mane, The Glass House.

‘Those in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones on others..’ or so goes the saying. What would you do though, if you happen to be in a Glass House and all you see is someone getting killed every now and then? And this is not any glass house, it’s the one in a remote island off the coast in the Arabian sea. Sea and the storms permitting, a boat makes a trip once a day to deliver supplies. Not surprisingly the sea is not permitting now, people are getting killed, you know that there are only ten and one persons on the island because they all came with you. Now what would you doBefore you start wondering what on earth am I talking about, let me you tell you. That was the premise of the Kannada play ‘Gaajina Mane’ or the Glass House I watched couple of weeks back.

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Ten people end up on an island, each invited to be there on a specific day for a specific purpose. Every person has different purpose though! Once they get there they learn about the other visitors. The person who invited them is not at all in sight. Just when the motley group is getting comfortable with each other, a voice announces the true purpose of their visit. The common thread that strings them together is their past. Each one has a skeleton in their cupboard, literally and not necessarily the same. They are told that their time is up; that they will die on the island, one at a time, unless they come clean and prove beyond doubt that the allegations are false. Before long the prophecy of the voice starts to come true and death claims its victims regularly.

For me, the silent watcher sitting in the audience as the play unfolds, three things stood out. First thing is the individual characters. There were men, women and a young girl. Their professions were varied. A doctor, a teacher, a military man and even a village municipality member who was also did money lending business and few others. What made them even more different was the way they spoke. They were mostly from the southern parts of Karnataka and their dialects showed the breadth of Karnataka. The coastal region, the Malayalee connection, the village variety, the refined educated tongue and the crisp military speak. It grabbed the attention of the audience right away and lead them nicely into the play. Every actor seemed natural in their dialect.

Second aspect was the innovative poem of the monkeys that were ten in the beginning and then die one at a time. Once the connection to the disappearing monkeys and the murders is established, it kept the audience guessing as to who will be the next victim and if it was as told in the monkey poem. It sure did. Since the little monkey dolls were quite visible to the audience too, it was a bit funny to notice the decreasing doll count at the beginning of a scene while the characters suddenly notice it at the appropriate time in the play. The murders were done without the associated blood and gore visible to the audience. Some happened on stage and in some cases we were told about the deaths. Every time someone died, the plot got murkier, suspicion shifted from one character to the other and it seemed anyone walking off the stage would be a potential dead person soon! While the poem already told what’s going to happen next, the anticipation of that happening and to whom and when kept the audience curious for how, who and when.

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The characters have killed before. They have either made peace with their actions or have confined it to the dark corners of their memory. When it becomes apparent that they don’t have a way out, the way they blurt it out was done very well. This revealed the characters. The shades of gray in their thoughts and way out they are waiting for or resigned to. The army major seemed dead even before he actually died. The teacher, who is also a nun invokes her faith. Few were defiant and continued to claim innocence.

While these three things stood out for me, what they grew out of were equally impressive. The stage, the props, the lighting and the background score contributed significantly to the success of the play. Eventually things sort themselves out, the dead stay dead of course, the killer is revealed and poem’s prophecy doesn’t come true for some at least. I wonder if the climax could have packed some sudden, shocking punch instead of the killer walking in while the hapless victim is motionless in the big stage. The three doors in the prop could have been employed to bring the victim and culprit face to face suddenly as the background reached the crescendo maybe? Maybe, but then the killer still had to explain the why behind the deaths. That was the only what if they had done this moment for me in the play.

In about 130 minutes of stage time ten characters reveal themselves. Did their every movement and every action suggest what would happen next? Or were there many decoys that were just there to mislead the audience? I guess a good mixture of both would be true. Was it enough for the audience to make a good connection with the characters and start playing the guessing game? I initially thought it was a bit hard to make good connection, but then realized this to be an opportunity to watch the play multiple times to observe the characters interact and see if the killer ever reveals him(/her) self before the finale. Oh but then this team is known to switch the killer in different shows!

Overall a fantastic play written and directed by Ramprasad KV. It is a Kannada adaptation of Agatha Christie’s play ‘Ten Little Indians’. It’s been adapted to Kannada so well that it seems rooted in Karnataka. Hearty congratulations to the Gaajina Mane team on the success of Gaajina Mane. It entertained the bay area folks and at the same time raised funds for the ‘Blind Foundation for India’.

I remember watching the ‘Puttamallige Estate’ by Ramprasad two years back. Hope this becomes a tradition with him and gives the bay area such thrillers with his team of talented actors. From Puttamallige Estate to the Gaajina mane the number of murders have gone up ten fold. I wonder if the next play is going to be some historic story of kings involving mass murders! Bring it on the ‘Gaajina Mane’ team, looking forward to many more plays from you.

( Photo Credit : Ashok Handigol, Poornima Ramaprasad & Ramaprasad KV )

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