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Koothu preview: Insightful documentary of the political and fraternal statement that is 'koothu'

Directed by Sandhya Kumar, the film captures the history and tradition of the fading world of 'koothu' through the life and works of two masters, P Rajagopal and Sambandan Thambiran.

Shriram Iyengar

Tamil Nadu has a rich history of folk theatre and the arts which are representative of the deprived and the oppressed and their right to expression. From MG Ramachandran to Sivaji Ganesan, street theatre has produced some great icons. Of these art forms, 'koothu' or karataikuttu is one.

Aptly titled, Sandhya Kumar's documentary examines the nature, history and progress of this art form from its early days, when it was just a form of entertainment, to the current state, when it is often also a political statement.

While the performances, as the film explains, are usually held as part of a religious event, or for the well-being of a village, the nature of their expression can be vastly different. From Subrahmanya Bharati to Gabriel Garcia Marquez, stories from the world over find their way to the streets of these villages depending on what takes the fancy of the performing troupe.

The schools and troupes set up by the two masters, P Rajagopal and Sambandan Thambiran, follow a tradition but also create a new platform for youngsters to take the art further.

Shifting between performances, the documentary examines the nature of the 'koothu' community as a fraternal support group for children from families that struggle to piece a meal together. These groups act as the support schools for these children to find the confidence, education and skill to face the world by themselves.

Sandhya Kumar, who is a film and communications graduate from the San Francisco Art Institute and Delhi's Jamia Millia University and a National award winner, observes through an impersonal lens. However, it is the little conversations with the students from the schools that add another dimension to the story.

The film has been produced by the Public Service Broadcasting Trust (PSBT) and backed by independent filmmaker Rajiv Mehrotra. He is the producer and commissioning editor of the film.

Koothu will be screened at the Open Frame Film Festival 2018 at the India International Centre, New Delhi, on 17 September at 7:30pm, followed by a discussion with the filmmaker.

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Open Frame Film Festival