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The Founder, Director and Playwright of Koothu-p-Pattarai, Mr N Muthuswamy is recognized as a pioneer in experimental Tamil theatre. In 1969, his production entitled “Kaalam Kaalamaaga” (Time after Time) was hailed as the first modern play in Tamil stage history. Since then, over a dozen plays have followed.

Born in Punjai, a village in Tamil Nadu, Muthuswamy moved to Madras in the late 1950s. It was here that the often-corrupting forces of urban life compelled him to reflect on the relatively innocent and genuine nature of village life and customs. Later, he began to write short stories on this theme. In the late 1960s, he abandoned prose to write for the stage, relying heavily on allegory. The plays that began to take shape were driven not by a linear narrative, but by a unique conversational logic that revealed the playwright’s penchant for creating poetic and highly dramatic “Pictures” onstage.

There followed eight years of intense study of Theru-k-Koothu, the traditional folk street theatre of Tamil Nadu, which left an indelible mark on Muthuswamy’s concepts of theatre, playwriting and theatrical training. These concepts led to the development of his new theatre group, Koothu-p-Pattarai. His achievement was to simultaneously revive traditional folk theatre and create a new idiom for the contemporary stage based on movement and sound as the main vehicles of story telling.

From the beginning, his plays depicted the destruction of personal identity by popular consumer culture through a method that infused folk theatre conventions, with a fresh and contemporary significance. The folk theatrical devices of the narrator, the mask, acrobatics and puppetry thus took on multiple meanings as intrinsic parts of theme and dramatic structure. While Eugene Ionesco’s creative output is typically viewed as an attempt to recapture lost innocence, Muthuswamy’s can be seen as a refusal to lose his innocence and individuality under the fragmenting forces of urban life. The influence of his native village Punjai therefore runs throughout many of his plays, revealing his steadfast resistance to the city’s narrow terms of acceptance and the intellectual impoverishment of modern India and many of her historical choices.

Abandoning the simple narrative plot, as individual human predicaments are not his main concern, Muthuswamy paints broad images of social and political transformation. Seeing the world as more than just a simple catalogue of discrete historical events, this playwright focuses not on the loss of Punjai and its ancient village-level innocence but on the urgent need for its recovery and affirmation. He has presented his plays in major cities of India and also outside the country.

He has been honoured with the Sangeet Natak Academi Award in 1999-2000, Tamil Nadu Government’s Award for Best Short Stories of 2005 and “Podhigai Award for Theatre” in 2007. He was recently awarded the Kalaignar Porkizhi Award for the year 2008, for his contribution to Tamil theatre.

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