The Legends of Khasak: A Malayalam Play That Captures The Essence of Magic Realism

The Legends of Khasak
The Legends of KhasakImages from deepz_stories

A young man moves to a nondescript village in Kerala called Khasak, after having gone through some truly tumultuous times in his personal life. He begins to teach at the single-teacher school in the village and starts to meet the local people. Soon enough, he is invested in the lives of the truly unique characters that call the village home, as well as the mythological characters and legendary stories that the people believe in. The real and the imaginary start to blend for the protagonist, as well as the lines of right and wrong. He embarks on a journey of philosophical reflection, as opposed to seeing things rationally. This is the basic premise of Khasakinte Ithihasam (The Saga of Khasak) by O.V. Vijayan. This novel, which was first published in 1968, blends motifs of fantasy and real life seamlessly, making it a magic realism novel that was way ahead of its times. Its unique narrative made the story bigger than the titular character - it was an examination of the people of Khasak and society in general. 

With 50 reprints to its name, this novel has been one of the most popular novels in Malayalam since its initial publication and continues to be. In 2015, this story was adapted for the stage by Deepan Sivaraman - a veteran dramatist who has graced national and international stages as a director and a scenographer. 

Adapting this classic work for the stage and keeping it faithful to Vijayan’s vision was not an easy feat. But with decades of experience in the national and international drama field, Deepan Sivaraman envisioned a play that brought the hamlet of Khasak to life. The play was created in association with an art initiative in the small town of Trikaripur and Deepan brought in people from the town to be a part of the production, almost as if drawing parallels from the small town in Kasargod to the fictional village of Khasak. Rather than focusing on the single narrative of the hero from the novel, he created a script that captured the stories of the varying people of Khasak in a multi-narrative style. 

Owing to his remarkable experience as a scenographer, Deepan drew from the original text, the motifs of pastoral life in Kerala as well as the folk form of Theyyam to create the setting for his play. A section of the set is made like a traditional walkway through the fields that were common in Kerala, and three sides of the set feature elevated areas where other actions take place. In creating this setting where the characters walk through dirt paths, perch on benches, burn torches, and walk through the rain that pours down on the stage, Deepan created an immersive experience that is apt for portraying this story that blurs the line between realism and myth. 

While the drama was initially performed in 2015 and was performed within and outside Kerala and received a lot of critical acclaim, they stopped its performance in 2017. After years of floods, the pandemic and its aftermath, Khasakinte Ithihasam the play is now being performed by the same team again. Most recently, they did three shows at the beginning of May, in Parappanangadi - a major town in the district of Malappuram in Kerala. While the play itself is in Malayalam, its story transcends language barriers and blends Indian myth and legends with every day life, presents an antithesis to the pastoral life and is a wonderful examination of the moral disillusionment that many face while living in small Indian villages that are rife with gossip, deceit, judgement and dated notions. 

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