Na Muthuswamy

Na Muthuswamy

Natesan Muthuswamy is a famous theatre personality of Tamil Nadu. Born in the village of Punjai, Tanjavur district in 1936, he was an established short-story writer before he ventured into theatre. His career as a playwright was shaped largely by an encounter with Terukkuttu, which overwhelmed him completely. He gradually gave up his first love, the short story, and changed course to drama. Constant interaction with the folk art form resulted in his writing style acquiring a Terukkuttu orientation. His theatre in its full form drifted away from the verbal to the visual, the acting conceived as choreography of bodily gestures, expressions, and movements, with stylized speech patterns, which he believes border on poetry.  In 1977, he established a theatre training institution in Chennai named Koothu-p-pattarai, for training in folk forms and production of drama based on his vision of theatre.

He wrote many plays after his first, Kalam kalamaha in 1969, including Narkalikkararin 1974, Suvarottikal in 1986, Natrrunaiappati in 1988, and Ingilandu in 1989. He adapted from Bhasa and dramatized from the Mahabharata in Terukkuttu style. He also developed scripts for social campaigns on AIDS, ecology, and environment. Anru puttiya vandi (1982) is a collection of his articles on folk and classical Indian musical theatre.

Koothu-p-pattarai grew into a premier training institute, generously funded since 1984 by the Ford Foundation. It collaborated with Max Mueller Bhavan and Alliance Francaise to produce modern European drama by Brecht, Eugene Ionesco, and others. It conducts street theatre and takes its productions all over India. Muthuswamy can take credit that his sustained promotion of Terukkuttu and its leader, Kannappa Thambiran, resulted in their acquisition of a profile in Indian theatre circles. 

The interdisciplinary involvement of the painter Krishnamoorthy with Koothu-p-pattarai in its early years deserves special mention. A. V. Dhanushkodi and Bhagirathi Narayanan associated with the Madras Players also worked there. Its intercultural activities include collaboration with Mapa Teatro of Bogota, Colombia, to dramatize in Terukkuttu form a story by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. The Old Man with Huge Wings was staged in Chennai and Bogota and productions of Muthuswamy`s Inkilantu and Ionesco`s Macbett as comic theatre at the Singapore Festival of Arts in 1998.