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
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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