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KPAC | The Origins

The Ernakulam Boat Jetty circa 1950

The origins of the theater movement called the Kerala People’s  Arts Club has long been a topic of endless debate and discussions. There are actually 3 versions on the genesis of KPAC but Punalur N Rajagopalan Nair, one of the patriarchs of the socio-cultural movement that heavily leaned on the socialist principles that was sweeping the land in the 50’s and the 60’s, categorically lays all doubts to rest  in an article that appeared in the tribute magazine brought out in honor of Thoppil Bhasi, the ‘Face’ of KPAC. According to him, KPAC began as a motley group of friends that included  S Prabhakaran Nair, N Rajagopalan Nair and  Issac Thomas in an informal session at the Bharath Cafe in Ernakulam, at the fag end of 1950.

Punalur N Rajagopalan Nair

Punalur N Rajagopalan Nair

The first ‘production’ of this motley band was Fyodor Dostoyevsky‘s The Brothers Karamazov, which started off on an enthusiastic note by the group even printing handbills of the production prior to even thinking about rehearsals ! Brothers Karamazov died in utero. The name Kerala People’s Arts Club first appeared in this handbill. But the first production wasn’t far behind. The first production that was staged as a KPAC production, according to Rajagopalan Nair seems to be a ‘shadow play’ staged for the Law College Day in the 1950-51 academic term  called ‘Poruthunna KOREA‘ { An Embattled Korea }

The cast  of Poruthunna KOREA. 

  • AM Kalyana Krishnan Nair
  • Varghese
  • N Rajagopalan Nair
  • G Janradhana Kurup was the Announcer/Narrator .

Backstage production team.

  • Kangazha PA Narayanan
  • N Sukumaran

The play was a sell-out. The main reason, according to Punalur Rajagopalan Nair was the powerful style of narrative by Janardhana Kurup, as the Narrator/ Announcer and the way that influenced the academic audience. As a powerful orator and an artiste, Janardhana Kurup would go on to achieve much more  in the coming years. And it ended there.

The deep friendship between N Rajagopalan Nair and Janardhana Kurup also saw them coming together to  create the play Ente Makananu Sheri ( My Son is Right) in 1952, post the election success of N Rajagopalan Nair who became a Member of the  Travancore Cochin Legislative Assembly (1952-54).  According to N Rajagopalan Nair’s memoirs, “The space for rehearsal was made available courtesy Shanmugom Pillai, the owner of Swaraj Lodge at Thampanoor, Thiruvanathapuram ( it still exists !), MP Paul was the advisor and trusted guide in taking the project forward, so much so that his daughter even became a member of the pioneering cast, the lyrics for the melodies were put down by Punalur Balan, KS George chipped in sing them, KS Rajamani and P Janardhana Pillai donated Rs 75 each for production costs, and with all these, staged it at VJT Hall in Thiruvanathapuram in 1951.  Adv. G Janardhana Kurup, Adv. N. Rajagopalan Nair MLA, TA Mytheen Kunju MLA, Adv. MP Kuttappan, KS George, Sulochana and Janaki were the first actors. Kottayam Sreeni was the troupe convenor and Poojappura Krishnan Nair, its Manager. The play was inaugurated in VJT Hall, Thiruvananthapuram in 1951.”

VJT Hall Thiruvananthapuram

VJT Hall Thiruvananthapuram

Ente Makananu Sheri dealt with the ideological conflict between a progressive student leader and his conservative father, and was a new experience for theatregoers. It differed, both in form and content, from the musical dramas and social satires that were in vogue. Thoppil Bhasi, the young Communist firebrand, who was on the run, gone underground, passed on from one safe shelter to another, had put together a play which surprisingly carried the same perspective – the ideological conflict between a progressive son and his father, a custodian to a crumbling fiefdom and a dilapidated manor, living on past glory, and his transition to  a  Communist idealogue. Since Thoppil Bhasi was a wanted man in the eyes of the government, he chose the pseudonym  of Soman as its credited playwright, and the play Ningalenne Communistaaki was staged, under the joint direction of G Janardhana Kurup and N Rajagopalan Nair MLA.

The fact that the name KPAC was brought about during the staging of The Brothers Karamazov is corraborated in  G Janardhana Kurup‘s autobiography, Ente Jeevitham ( My Life), as he speaks about finalising on the club’s name, during his meeting with N Rajagopalan Nair at Mararithottam.

Professor ONV KurupAccording to ONV Kurup, as it says in the KPAC site, “Rajagopalan Nair, G. Janardhana Kurup, Rajamony, Sreenarayana Pillai and ONV together sought Prof. MP Paul for advice and assistance to form a theatre and they decided to stage a drama, and later the name KPAC was emerged at a discussion at  CP Sathram Thiruvananthapuram.

Yet another version subscribes the naming of KPAC to  “a project report submitted by Kottayam Sreeni to the Kerala State Committee of the Communist Party of India.”

Whatever be the origins, the part played by KPAC as a tool of the Communist Party of India in raising the social and political consciousness of a state marginalised and shackled by the rusty, brittle chains of feudal submissiveness and bigotry is undeniable. IT helped coalsce public opinion, raised self-awareness and dignity – eventually paving way to form one of the first democratically elected Communist governments on the planet.

KPAC, in short,  made history.

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