Carving a Cultural Niche for Malayalam Drama in London

A cultural presence all Keralites in London can be proud of – a beacon of hope to rise above the mundane annual Onam day celebrations – Manoj Shiva is all this and more for culture enthusiasts who dream of elevating the contemporary Malayalam drama scenario to international levels in London – the mantle of performance arts.

It was his love for drama and admiration for the supreme playwright Shakespeare that brought Manoj to the city where the bard had staged his famous plays. An ardent lover of drama and music from his school and college days at Thiruvananthapuram, he brings with him the rich heritage of Kerala folklore. An alumnus of the Law Academy of Kerala, Manoj enrolled himself in the University of Worcester for further studies, while always keeping his versatile mind alive with cultural pursuits.

Manoj tried to attune London’s rich drama tradition with his own experiences and cultural capital gained at festival grounds in Kerala, especially those from the popular cultural gathering `Samskriti’, of which Manoj was an essential part. It is his love for the musical as well as socially committed drama scene in London that made Manoj write as well as direct some of the acclaimed Malayalam dramas today – Guru Brahma based on the life of Sri Narayana Guru, Swativedam – a musical on the musician ruler Swati Thirunal, Kanti – a play based on the heroines of Malayalam Cinema, Aa Manushyan Nee Thanne – a play written by C J Thomas for the catholic community of UK.

Manoj uses the new imprology method in his theatrical creations which provides opportunity for artists to improvise on their technique on stage. He has used this method in his period drama, `Swativedam’ which conveys the struggles and problems faced by the eminent ruler and musician Swathi Thirunal. He has also resorted to the use of a clown to convey the moral essence of the drama in a slightly humorous manner.

“I am trying to emphasise on the imprology method of drama which I am exploring more and more with my teacher turned friend Remy Bertrand. We are not keen on big platforms, but a small gathering in a friend’s place is enough for us to bring forth our creativity. The imprology method is used to overcome the various blocks different people might have to express themselves, be it through the medium of drama, music or even poetry,” says Manoj Shiva. He feels that expressing themselves in such an informal manner breaks down the skepticism within people and opens their perspective towards each other. “This goes a long way towards building a community feeling and helps people to mingle with each other in a more constructive manner,”adds Shiva.

Manoj’s friendship with the famous playwright and director Prashanth Narayanan of `Chayamukhi’ and `Makaradhwajan’ fame has always been a source of inspiration for him. Both Manoj and Prashanth intends to stage an inter-cultural show in London participating various Indian and UK artists.

A versatile artist himself, Manoj is better known in the Malayali cultural diaspora as an excellent tabla and mridangam player. His tabla recitals are an integral part of many a cultural gathering among London Keralites. Manoj is an excellent actor too and has donned the part of Swathi Thirunal in his own production `Swathivedam’. He has also acted in the famous film,`English’, directed by Shyamaprasad. He has an art company VBeatsUK, which promotes music, dance, theatre and movie productions.

Manoj also has to his credit a documentary ‘Our Story – Onam’ produced by the Malayali Association of the UK (MAUK) and funded by Heritage Lottery Fund.

(The writer is a freelance journalist based in London)