In Memory of a Maverick Play-Maker

It will be nine years since the untimely demise of Jos Chirammal, the path-breaking theatre maker of Kerala, on this September 17. He passed away in 2006.

His death was untimely not only because he was aged just 53, regarded as middle-age in our era. It became untimely also because death came for him at a time when his artistic life was at its lowest ebb.

Artists’ lives are like that. Like the oceans, those lives too go through their own ebbs and tides. Chirammal’s life had hit almost the lowest level of the ebb during the last couple of years that preceded his death.

Jos Chirammal belonged to the first batch of students at the Calicut University School of Drama in Thrissur, which was opened in 1978. Even before receiving the academic education, he was already well known figure in the theatre circuit of Kerala, having dabbled with theatre ever since his primary school days. After completing the course, he organised workshops and theatre training  programmes as well as produced plays under the banner of Root, Thrissur, an organisation founded by him along with a group of friends equally committed to theatre. For more than one decade, Root held numerous workshops and produced theatre performances, which were staged in many parts of Kerala.

Jos Chirammal
Jos Chirammal

The first programme conducted under the initiative of Root was a five-month-long theatre camp held at Kattoor, a village in Thrissur district, in association with Anamika, a local cultural organisation.

His concept of theatre had linked directly to the villages, to the common people, as the name of the group, ‘Root,’ suggested. He believed in taking theatre to the people, and in taking people to theatre, introducing them to meaningful theatre and getting them trained. His flair for theatre was natural and spontaneous, which was already well-formed much before his School of Drama days. The academic training of course served to provide finesse to his raw genius.

Throughout his career, he had directed 35 productions for Root, with 27 more for various other groups. He had been actively involved in working with the campus theatre groups.

His most celebrated production was that of ‘Mudrarakshasam,’ the classic Sanskrit play, which had won acclaims at the national level after being staged at Natyasamaroh, the national theatre festival held in New Delhi in 1987. His production of Badal Sircar’s ‘Bhoma,’ was also widely performed, being staged throughout Kerala during the 80s.

Perhaps his most ambitious plan was the Theatre Laboratory Project in Grass Root Level, funded by the Ford Foundation, which ran into murky controversies, bringing his professional status to a sudden decline. Beginning in 1992 and continuing till 1997, the ‘Ford Foundation Project,’ had in its core some of the fundamental notions that Jos Chirammal had always upheld, regarding theatre activity at the grass roots level.

After the winding up of the project, Jos Chirammal had not done any major work. He was rather floating from one place to another, doing local workshops or productions for local groups. He had done a couple of workshops in Mumbai, Calcutta and Abu Dhabi also.

On September 17, 2006 he died. He had fallen unconscious while walking along the road near Thrissur, to be taken to the Medical College Hospital by the police, where the death was confirmed.

The death anniversary is being observed by the Jos Chirammal Smaraka Samithi this year also, with a commemorative meeting. Prof. S. Ramanujam, veteran theatre person and the first Assistant Director of the Calicut University School of Drama, will deliver this year’s commemorative lecture. ‘Veriyattam,’ the Tamil play directed by Prof. Ramanujam for his group, Arangasree, based in Thanjavur, will be staged after the meeting. An adaptation of Euripides’ classic work, ‘The Trojan Women,’ ‘Veriyattam,’ is being performed by the same team of actors consisting mainly of the local villagers of Thanjavur for decades.