A famous actress — the Ms Meena of the title — returns to the little village she grew up in, presumably to shoot her last film. The villagers, most of whom live in reduced circumstances, hope that her visit will change things for the better. Much of their hope rests on the person of Ravi, the actress’ ex-boyfriend from before she became a star. The setup and the light-hearted banter in these initial scenes suggests a Kuselan-style fable. But playwright Rashmi Ruth Devadasan wades into deeper waters pretty quickly.
The story is acted out in a very loud, filmi, overdone style, with moments of laugh-out-loud humour including a song titled — wait for it — Oh Darling Baby, and countless references to films of a certain era. Some of the melodrama can be attributed to the fact that you are, at least in part, watching a film being shot. But it is not as if the other scenes are underplayed either.
The story, however, is a far quieter drama with a touch of the macabre — the kind of thing you expect to come across in a Stephen King book. By far the most interesting thing about Ms Meena is the way it manages to tell this story in this manner. The dichotomy between the story and the manner of its telling is best exemplified by the performances of the actors who play Ravi and Meena. The former plays it straight throughout, while the latter always acts as though she is on camera. It’s as if the person she had to become on screen was her refuge, and she simply chose not to leave.
But as the play approaches its closing scenes, you realize that, despite the lightness in the storytelling, the drama is not shortchanged. The last scene feels like a punch to the gut. We lead our little lives, and after our passing, the traces of our existence — the good and the bad — are blown away like so much dust in the wind. What remains, sometimes, is some memorial stripped of context and meaning, like a name on a board somewhere, or a statue at some intersection. And sometimes, a few lines of a folk song.