Current Show by Perumal Murugan
Gurgaon, India. Penguin Books. 2017. 186 pages.
Perumal Murugan is a contemporary Tamil author whose works mostly focus on the lives of the vulnerable and the disadvantaged. Current Show is his second novel, originally written in Tamil and titled Nizhal Muttram. The book was published in 1993, and the new translation by feminist historian V. Geetha brings the novel back into circulation. Murugan’s novels and short stories usually focus on caste oppression and economic subjugation, portraying a world that remains unknown to the outside world.
This novel is set around a movie theater in Pasavu. Current Show follows a group of vulnerable young men whose lives are deeply entangled by circumstance. The novel follows Sathivel, who sells soda during the intermission and plays cards and smokes marijuana with his friends Hulk and Natesan in his free time. Nothing is certain in the lives of these men, including where to purchase their next meal. The soda man often encourages Sathi to farm and give up selling soda. The income might be better, but Sathi likes the excitement that only theater can provide. The men are not sure of a better future, as they spend all their income on bidis (local cigarettes), tea, and marijuana. While selling soda, the characters draw inspiration from films or see their lives mirrored in them.
Murugan’s characters are all defined by poverty and how it affects their character and relationships with one another. For instance, it sheds light on the troubled relationship between Sathi and his father. In one pivotal scene, Sathi’s father visits him, bringing beef. Instead of accepting it, Sathi shouts, “You son of a bitch! You expect me to eat the stuff that you’ve begged for! Don’t make me angry. Just go!”
The silver lining amidst all the chaos is the friendship shared between Natesan and Sathi. They often share a meal together and also discuss their family life. The reel man also often pushes Sathi to meet his sexual desires. The shop owners around the theater tend to take advantage of the boys by providing them a place to sleep and a job.
The book’s title, Current Show, can be understood as a metaphor that highlights the difficulties and uncertainties associated with human life and how the human element inside us constantly tries to resist and fight back. Finally, the novel is a powerful attempt to portray the triumph of resilience over oddities in our daily lives. Sathi’s character powerfully portrays the impoverished life that many Tamil experience. The novel underscores the irony that even if the men work outside the movie theater, they can never lead the lives of film stars.