Sangae Muzhangu 2017: Time For A Reset?

Sangae Muzhangu is not just a school society production, neither is it just another musical. It is a tradition. As with all traditions, it offers an illusion of permanence. This year marks the 20th Sangae Muzhangu. The first Sangae Muzhangu was held on 21st June 1987  at  Victoria Theatre to raise funds for the biennial seminar organised by the NUS Tamil Language Society.

This production has been described (by themselves in their magazine) to be:
  • an important platform to bring together NUS students from various backgrounds and showcase their talents and calibre,
  •  a contributing factor to the local Tamil theatre scene,
  • served as a platform to create awareness of pertinent social issues crucial to our community and
  • the benchmark Tamil stage production among tertiary students in Singapore.
Firstly, I was impressed with the synopsis. While previous Sangaes have usually attempted to deal with national issues, normally along political lines and usually failed at addressing it productively, this year's team had declining birth rates as their central theme. This is a real problem in Singapore. The Government has been introducing perks (bonuses and more recently, paternity leave) to encourage married couples to procreate. I was eager to listen to what the voice of the current student population has to say about this problem. It got better when you read the first line of the synopsis " when artificial intelligence starts manipulating human's concept of love..."

Perhaps whatever intelligence that was available was used up during the formulation of the synopsis, because the production had none whatsoever. They had a great idea but the execution was disastrous. A Dating Application. It was clear that the people who were handling the script had little if, no knowledge of the concept of artificial intelligence.

It was not the worst 3 hours of my life and there were moments that I did enjoy. I liked that the opening was used to lay down the premise and to get the audience on track with the story. Not everyone would have flipped 79 pages to Page 80 to have read the synopsis before the show began.

Saravanan ( playing the role of Venkatesh) was clearly the best actor of the lot. His voice modulation and ability to emote with his voice is truly commendable. Rameshgandhi Venkat ( role: PK @PattaKunjam) who was the designated comic relief performed adequately. I thoroughly enjoyed the scenes involving the Venkatesh family as well.Apart from that, the cast was decent, albeit forgettable.

In fact, I was unsure about the need to cast veteran alumnus Balakumaran or the need for the Amaravati-Ambikapathi and Senorita scene. If anything at all, it only proved to show the magnitude of the disparity in the quality of acting. 
Photo Credits: Kanthan Jay Photography

What most productions fail to realise is that they are only as strong as their weakest link. In the previous decade, NUS was blessed with a talented crop of dancers with the likes of Kumaravelu, Anu, Krishna, Jay, Aarthi, Faisal, who have won Dhool competitions twice. When it is evident that dancers are not your strength, it is surprising that there were 8 dance sequences. Some dances were just plain bad. 

On the flip side, I was really impressed with the scene where the indo-contemporary dance was in.  It was not so much on the quality of dancing, but rather the construction of the scene, where music, dance and theatre fused together seamlessly. Kudos to those involved in that scene.
Photo Credits: Kanthan Jay Photography

Firstly, I have never been a fan of huge props. I have always had the viewpoint that script should take priority and supporting effects ( lights, sound, props) are meant to enhance the script.  However, I have been part of productions where a scene was constructed just so the props IC could fulfil his dream of bringing a train onto the stage. As such, having seen the likes of an aeroplane to a ship to a train to a ferries wheel to a tank, this edition of Sangae Muzhangu would seem like a disappointment to many.

Live music has been a recent addition to Sangae Muzhangu. This was probably the best component of the production. I especially loved the bgm during the first date between Maya and Raghavan. Brahmastra is truly a gem and destined for greater heights.

Social Issues
The production earned many claps when making direct reference to the following issues:
  • Closure of Junior Colleges
  • Increase in the cost of water
  • reserved presidential elections
  • SMS Josephine Teo's quote on "You don't need much space to have sex".
What is the point of telling people what they already know? Where is the voice of the university student with regards to the issues? Do you have an opinion of it?

The vacuity of this Sangae Muzhangu 2017 was sealed when they resorted to a Bigg Boss reference, which is probably the worst crap to make it to television.

The future 

In my experience with this production, it usually runs like a parallel unit to the Tamil Language Society.  Firstly, I think the society has to take a look at the purpose of Sangae Muzhangu in 2017. There is no point in doing a show just because it is a tradition. I am not asking for cessation but rather a dedicated initiative to re-look its continued existence.

With our national language in limbo, what can NUS TLS do to keep the flame burning? The lack of knowledge in important components was very telling. While one can act with little training, you cannot say the same for technical areas such as direction. Perhaps, future production crews can seek professional help where direction, choreography and other technical areas are concerned. Does Sange Muzhangu need to be confined to proscenium theatre? 

One thing is certain, with NTU's productions getting better with each attempt, Sangae Muzhangu has definitely lost its mantle of being the benchmark Tamil Stage Production among tertiary students in Singapore.
[Ed Note: Having been part of Sangae 2009 / 2011, I am fully aware of the amount of hard work that everyone has put in. The intention of this post is not to put anyone down but rather to reflect on the quality of the production and as a point of reference to the next production team. It was a good effort. ]


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