The Father, an adaptation of Florian Zeller's play by Poochu's Productions, is a lot about what's in the head

The Father is an ‘ambitious project’, director Denver Anthony Nicholas tells us. Well, when you watch the play starring TM Karthik in the titular role, the audience will get to know why…

Rupam Jain Published :  30th June 2023 12:00 AM   |   Published :   |  30th June 2023 12:00 AM
Antony Joseph, TM Karthik & Sukanya Umesh in The Father

Antony Joseph, TM Karthik & Sukanya Umesh in The Father

There are plays that play to the gallery; and then there are plays that play out from the mind. Literally. The Father is one such. Imagine watching the protagonist narrate a story that is as scattered in his head as it is presented to you. You feel as lost as the character as you feel connected with the dilemma he is so vulnerably bringing to you. That, of course, is the brilliance of this play, written originally by French playwright Florian Zeller, later translated into English and a film made by the same name, starring Anthony Hopkins in the titular role, which also won him an Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role.

Adapted for the Chennai audience, director Denver Anthony Nicholas insists that the ‘adaption’ is only in terms of changing the name of the characters to ‘Indianise’ them. “We’ve not made any changes to the plot. From Act One, Scene one, from the first word to the last, nothing has been changed. It would be a crime to change the beautifully written play,” the director says.

It was last year, when Denver was looking through scripts for his next big play that he came across the script of The Father. “We had done monologues, ensemble plays, musicals; so I was looking to work on something very different. None of the scripts captivated me until I found The Father. I had not watched the film. I read the script, and was blown away by its intensity, which is so beautifully captured. And then, I watched the movie, and I just fell in love with Anthony Hopkins,” says Denver.

Also read: Survival of the toughest: A play on how three Indian soldiers stayed sane at the face of death

Talking about the subject of the play, which is dementia, Denver says, “The play is still debatable as to whether it is gaslighting or whether it is dementia (I’ve read some online reviews where people are still debating on it). It is written so well that the actor can take any dimension. That’s the beauty of it, because there are parts of the play that allow you to think of him as gaslighting; and there are other parts of the play where you’ll actually find yourself say, this is dementia. In our adaptation, we haven’t settled on one point of view. I think my actors are working from one point of view, and I’m working from another; and we’re trying to make the audience also feel and ask that question as they watch the play.”
As confusing as it gets, the story encapsulates, almost absorbing you into the mind of the lead actor, TM Karthik in The Father presented by Poochu’s Productions.

Sukanya Umesh plays daughter to TM Karthik who essays the titular role

“I was very against watching the film as part of the prep because it’s a role that a legend like Anthony Hopkins has mastered. So, it’s the role I am worshipping, because there cannot be any comparison with the movie — the medium is different, subtleties are different, nuances are different.”

Talking further about his preparation, Karthik says, “For me, the logic is very simple. Earlier, I wanted to do theatre so that people clap and laugh and say ‘what a performer’. Over time, however, that has changed. Now, it is all about what it is that I want to tell, what it is that I want to explore. The source is no longer about pleasing people; it’s about what the story is. And, the father in The Father is something I really wanted to play.”

Also, having done a lot of monologues, Karthik was looking to break the pattern, and The Father seemed like the perfect shot. The plot, though dominated by the role of the father, sees the rest of the five characters in very significant roles in the play because of the lead character’s mind.

Also read: Krishna’s Dark Son explores the life of Samba

Playing a character with a fragmented mind was not easy, like Denver tells us, “It (the play) is taking a toll on the actors,” while Karthik adds, “Because for a mind that is fragmented, there is no right emotion for it. So my preparation usually is quite intense; I get worked up. In fact, I have had a fever for the last few days. There’s never been a play when I’ve not fallen sick. There’s a lot more to Alzheimer’s than we know of. Each theme in the play has a manifestation of that Alzheimer’s which also explores as well as questions the complete set of emotion in  each scene. I like that in this play, a scene has to be a full play in itself, which is again tough to achieve because the whole play happens in the protagonist’s mind. There is no order, no timeframe in this play, and the audience has to constantly find a pace with the broken images in the father’s head.”

Rs 200 onwards.
Tickets available online.
July 2. 3 pm & 6 pm.
At Alliance Francaise of Madras, Nungambakkam.