20 December 2009

นางนากเดอะมิวเซียม | Nang Nak The Museum

Those who are Thai or live in Thailand for a certain period of time would more than likely know about the legend of Nang Nak of Phra Khanong, of how she died at childbirth and became a ghost waiting for her husband. Of course, her ghost is scary and well-revered by Thai people as her statue is propped up in Wat Mahabutr, nowadays reachable by BTS.

So it comes as no surprise that there should be a play that parodies the legend and exposes some prejudices that hide behind the powerful myth. Veteran director Damkueng Tithapiyasak manages to do so as well as add some humour to this play, making it one of the most funny plays in this year. So funny that the play has been restaged twice and I was one of the audience of the second restaging at the Makhampom Studio in Saphan Kwai.

The plotline is crisscrossed between the past and the present, beginning at the attempt of some people to make a film about Nang Nak. Their decision to invite a media to make the whole show more realistic creates a setback in which Nang Nak is called back to the present, pestering one of the staff whom she believes is her reincarnated husband. The premise is interesting in the sense that we see how Nang Nak tries to adapt and learn about Thailand at the present, such as the Skytrain, and Westernised commodities that litter the contemporary Bangkok landscape, as well as the redefinition of Nang Nak herself not as a scary ghost but a confused woman. Also, she needs to face the fact that her husband is no longer the same man but a modern man who is now seeing someone else.

As the story progresses, we start to see how the play touches on various prejudices that the myth seeks to hide. We start to realise how in the old days Nang Nak was maltreated by her husband and domestic violence was something so common that people didn't talk about it. We also learn how lonely Nang Nak was, waiting for her husband to come back. However, the play also acknowledges the role of gossips and rumours that makes the whole legend blurry and we are not so sure which part is fact and which is fiction, yet it cannot be denied that the power of the legend is firmly engraved on the mentality of Thai public.

The ending is ingenious as it turns out that the ghost of Nang Nak will only disappear if her reincarnated husband simply finds a new girlfriend and forgets her completely, thus re-emphasising the power of men who can dictate the life and death of women. Women, on the other hand, are dependent on men and live on their mercy. Nang Nak's resignation at the end is somehow not as important as the flippancy on her husband's part and the dominance of patriarchal codes that is very much latent in Thai society.

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