From Gujarati to Hindi - Seven monologues Three Productions

 A Kaleidoscopic view of Contemporary  Theatre by Jai Chandiram


Sushma Seth and Rashmi Vaidialingam in Bikhre Bimb

Seven X Three Equals Twenty One 

Gujarati is not my language but I am drawn to theater recommended by friends in theater . At NCPA in Mumbai where Gujarati theater draws full house of a  play in its  9th run … there must be something  that draws the audience.

Seven monologues written by the brightest  dramatists at home and abroad ,enacted by well known stage and television artistes is a astute mix to bring in the crowds , old and young . The monologues covered contemporary themes, young women choices to make it into the world,   surrogate mother, cloning, voice of an unwritten poem and relationships  observed through the eyes of a differently abled person.  

I enjoyed Shishir Ramavat’s ‘Urmila’ as it offered insights into  Laksman’s wife who is left  behind in Ayodhya as Laksman  follows his brother Ram and Sita into exile . Was not Urmila’s “banwas” more poignant as she stays behind alone ? Urmila is dressed in widow’s white but (oddly styled)  and her monologue addresses her self and her situation in the reflection in the  mirror and   her imaginary  dassis. She lights 14 lamps as the years pass by . On the return of Ram and  Sita she  waits impatiently at her threshold   for Laksman who does not  stop to  visit her.  In despair, she lights her 15th. lamp  symbolising her continuing isolation. Her strength and independence seems to be greater than Sita.

Sneha Desai  underplays Urmila with dignity and her frustration is palpable but not emotionally engaging . 

Pratipursh  is the cloning of the self and its consequences in the family . A great scientist clones himself and the young boy  clone falls in love with the scientists wife ,equivalent to ‘mother’. The ‘mother’ is horrified as the young boy look alike of her husband also has the passion and the feelings of her husband. The boy-son  pursues his ‘mother’ passionately . As the young boy declares his love for her she shoots herself even as her husband announces the success of the cloning  his wife!. Totally bizarre way of making science  enter our lives ! 

Saumya Joshi, the most controversial dramatist and great writer brings  to life the Unwritten Poetry … possibly his own feelings when he wants to write but is unable to do so the .. the demons of his ideas hound him, or is it censorship that curtails the writing? Jigna Vyas’s performance was eclectic as she makes alive her anguish as the unwritten poem . Her performance is charged with passion , an actress to watch .  

Ram Rahka Tem . (May Ram Keep You ) by Sanjay Shah is the life of a young woman  who has to ‘make it in the world’ with her body as her only asset . A common story  of hundreds of young women in poverty who  make the difficult choice for survival and its impact on their short lives . Kurtika Desai performance is  spirited and passionate as she carries us through her choices , reminisces and self analysis. 

Kasper Hause , Chandrakant Shah searches the destructive power of words on the humans.  I just could not relate to this piece, possibly because of my language handicap  ! 

Lapsi is  a surrogate mother , quickly learning the ropes of the business. Effervescent , rustic she has a heart which reaches out . A young mother of a disabled child she is selected to be a surrogate mother. Confident that this child would be perfect . but fate plays a different game on her emotions and her new baby.  

Darshan Jariwala illuminates the stage with sheer electricity as he goes over the incidents in the family and their relationships and his own feelings as a differently abled person. The inner life  of the disabled person is rich in observation and philosophy which we imbibe from life . Aatish Kapadia’s  piece, “What I see with my Eyes” is a joy  for its acting and insights ! 

Kalakkanavu ( A Dream of Time ) 

Kalakkanavu  was recently performed in a large  room in JNU .

The audience  as it were sat  on a crossroad  in four triangles divided by a little path for actors to move  . It was also like a courtyard lined  with the laundry lines. The public space and the home merge as does history and its impact on the homes .

A projection screen on a wall contemporised the  feminist debates of histories. From time to time ,the actors emerged from the  audience and  pictures of the women who made feminist history were hung on the clothesline. Free, easy , casual yet passionate the stories are  close to us even today and fresh in their perspective and  current  in their  hindsight .

The women dialogues, dairies, writings and debates at the turn of the century remain  forceful in our  lives even today.  These debates , dialogues and reminisces of herstories  remain  absent   from  our  history books .

The play is performed in Tamil . The performance is spirited and the presentation is interspersed with song and image .

What was the response of the women to Subramania Bharati’s romantic vision of the  new liberated woman in the 1900 ‘s and the political reforms and thoughts ?

Women interpreted these events and visions in many ways , some saw that women would be free to love and marry and have the right to widow remarriage, and abolition of child marriage . These views are back dropped with the story of Subbulashmi , an eleven year old married to an older man . Subbulakshmi starts a correspondence with  a friend Grace Samuel whom she did not meet but with whom she shared  her feelings and the reality of her life comparing it with  Bharatis vision of the new woman . Confined to her home she like Charulata looks at the women engaged in the public space  and  re imagines her life as envisioned by Bharati .

The second part, deals with social change the widespread conversion to Christianity . Drawing on the writings of the activist and novelist a Madaviah who reflects on   intercaste marriage, living in sin ,and records the  move against the devdasi tradition, and gives  voice to  child rights and the fight of the Nadar women to wear the breast cloth which was denied to the lower caste women . Bringing the discussion to more contemporary terms , does not caste hierarchy remain in the churches today and has the morality of the church limited the choices of women?

The Devdasi tradition is positioned  in the 1920’s by Ramamrithammal and Dr.Muthulakshmi. . Ramamrithammal, herself a devdasi  drew inspiration from Ramasami Periyar’s ‘self respect movement’ and wanted the devdasi tradition to be abolished . Muthulakshmi argued that the devdasi tradition encouraged male promiscuity yet the moral code  blamed only  the woman as being solely responsible. She argued for education of women .

Gandhi  brought the women out and positioned them in the political struggle . What was the relationship of women in this struggle with their male counterpart ? The left led struggle certainly brought out  the women  in small trade ventures but subordinated  and held tight their sexual status.  There is much silence on the stories of the these women. Women placed gender justice, caste inequalities and contexualised that the home must also change if the world is to change. 

The play re examines this rich inheritance of the feminist movement and  places the dialogues in today’s  feminist discourse .

The play has been performed 14 times in less than a year for different audiences and added to the script the responses from the audience .

I saw the performance in Tamil and it was not hard to appreciate the sheer  power and value of  women’s  herstory (history)!

Bhikhre Bimb (A Heap of  Broken Images)


Dramatist :Girish Karnad

Translation: Padmavati Rao

Direction: Rajinder Nath

Actors: Sushma Seth , Rashmi Vaidialingam and

Nalini Kamal

A full house as  Sushma returns to the  Delhi stage after thirty years ! “It was tough going and very hard memorizing lines”  she revealed .

Girish Karnard steps out of the mythology and  folk tale to write a ‘contemporary’ play. I felt, he had not left behind the legacy and the power of the ‘myth’ and continued to draw on the dilemmas of the ‘self’ and the search for truth with the tools of the ‘myth’.

The play centers on Manjula Nayak, a little known Kannada short story writer who is catapulted into fame by her first novel in English . Touching the current issues of writers in the mother tongue and pitting the success of writers in English Girish makes a tongue in cheek comment on the literary scene in India. The serious issues of facing the truth by  unravelling and coming to face  with the harsh realities of oneself requires  honesty and courage which can destroy but also heal .

Girish’s new play is a powerful piece of  work .

Rajinder Nath  staged the play with  the globe and a cut out of a television screen set in  a television studio in the black and white era of television  The set and lights were rough and did not do justice to the implicit invasion and impact of the global  electronic media in our private world .Could these images be our  truth ?

Sushma  plays Manjula with assurance which is a delusion of her reality . She weakly fights the truth when confronted and subtly leaves her conviction of truth open .  Rashmi as Manjula’s mirror and inner self is more relentless and forceful in  unravelling the truth.

Rajinder Nath weakens the interpretation of the play by dividing the role the of the ‘self” between two actors . and not using the image . Rajinder Nath felt that the ‘video’, the  image would overpower the actor and  so is unacceptable.  


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