It was just a few months ago that Rafeeq Mangalassery became famous, but for all ‘wronged’ reasons. Till then, he was a simple man — a playwright hailing from a quiet village in Malappuram. He has been active in the field of children’s theatre for over two decades. His play Kithab, inspired from a short story Vaanku by Unni R., kicked up a storm after the 30-minute play featuring a girl who wanted to become a muezzin like her father and call the azan, irked religious fundamentalists. Though the play stood first in the Kozhikode district arts festival, the 10th-graders who acted in it couldn’t stage it again.
The photographs of the teary-eyed little actors watching the other plays on stage were viral. “Those kids are very inspiring. They are revolutionaries and are bold enough to move the court to fight for their right. What they took is a political stance,” he says. It’s not the first time Rafeeq is facing the heat of intolerance. In 2007, his play Rabiya on the life of Manziya, a classical dancer, who was ostracised from her community, had also become controversial.
Kerala has a prestigious history of theatre activism, but sadly, it is gone now. Theatre, Rafeeq laments, is not getting due credit.
“Just think of our best actors and best actresses from campus and youth festivals. Where have they gone? For many, theatre is the stepping stone to filmdom, the world of glitz and glam. But even film is not the biggest platform. There are artistes like Alencier, Sarasa Balussery, Savithri Sreedharan who are active in both films and theatre,” he points out.
Rafeeq is part of both films and theatre. The state award-winning playwright has already directed short films; now, he is awaiting the release of Ennu Mammali Enna Indiakkaran, a movie he has penned script for, which is all set to hit the screens soon. The film starring Mansiya, Santhosh Keezhattur, Rajesh Sharma and Prakash Bare, is directed by Arun N. Sivan. One look at the trailer, you realise that the film has Rafeeq style written all over it. From Pakistan, ISIS, Terrorism, women’s rights, beef politics, sexual identity, Dalit issues, flawed system and communalism, the movie discusses various social issues in depth. “It’s a political movie that discusses current issues like beard politics, Maoist branding, social stigma faced by a family whose member joins the ISIS. It’s a cross-section of the current Indian political situation. How people are being marginalised in a democratic country for silly reasons,” he explains.
The film has been censored with a U certificate and the makers are planning a theatrical release soon. “Distribution would be difficult, so we might organise parallel screenings. When a national-award-winning director like Priyanandanan had to take on rent a theatre to screen his movie, how could we?” laughs Rafeeq, who is working on another script, possibly his big screen directorial debut.
But Rafeeq’s heart lies in theatre, which he terms as ‘an untouchable in literature’. “People recognise an actor from an album or a short film, but would anyone recognise a theatre actor who has been performing for over 25 years? That’s why I said, theatre is marginalised by media. But there are hopeful voices and inspiring youngsters rising to the fore. It’s not time to lose hope yet,” he concludes....