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Jul 20, 2012

Indian Women: Drama


Indian English Drama: Women Playwrights 
By: Vishwanath Bite

Apart from the substantial contributions rendered in Indian English Drama by the noted dramatists like Asif Currimbhoy, Nissim Ezekiel, Girish Karnad, Badal Sircar, Mohan Rakesh, Vijay Tendulkar and Mahesh Dattani, some Indian English women playwrights have also published their plays in the contemporary phase. Mrs. J. M. Billimoria in her play My Sons (1963) presents a picture of five students of Bombay University who, in spite of sharp differences in their religion and language live like real brothers.

Dina Mehta’s first full length play The Myth Makers (1969) won an award from Sultan Padamsee Playwriting Competition in 1968 and Tiger Tiger (1978) - a play on Tipu Sultan, Brides are not Burning (a play on dowry deaths) won the first prize in a worldwide competition sponsored by B. B. C. in 1979. Getting Away with Murder was on the short list of seven specially commended radio plays out of 902 entries submitted for the B. B. C. World Playwriting Competition, 1989. Her other famous plays are One Plus One Makes Nine and Sister Like You. Her Getting Away with Murder deals with childhood, sexual abuse, infidelity, and insecure relationship. It gives an account of three women friends who pass through their own private hells and finally emerge as strangers to one another. Mrs. Mehta brings to life the extremely parochial mentality of some residents of cities like Mumbai.

Shri Devi Singh experiments with a poetic drama in her The Purple-Braided People (1970). But it is more a poem than a play and the characters are explicitly the mouthpieces of the author.

P. Sengupta from Bangalore is a Tamil married to a Bengali civil servant. Her plays are also very strong, with clear, identifiable characters and situations. She is a columnist, poet, children’s fiction writer, and above all a playwright. Her award-winning play Mangalam has been staged in Bangalore, Chennai and Delhi, again to large audiences, which responded very strongly. It shows how women have been facing various kinds of violence and abuses for generations. It deals with the joint family set-up in a Tamil Brahmin middle-class home. The English text brings in the Tamil flavour by the interspersing of Tamil words and phrases. Her play Keats was short listed for the 1996 British Council International Playwriting Award and won a special commendation. Recently she wrote two short plays presented together, Alipha and Thus Spake Shoorpanakha, So Said Shakuni. The later one has a very interesting though a little controversial theme. She like Dattani, is also theatre person - director, actor, and with her own drama group in Bangalore.

Manjula Padmanabhan is a powerful playwright and a cartoonist. Her play Harvest won the Onassis International Cultural Competition Prize for theatrical plays in 1997 in Greece. She was the first Indian to earn international acclaim with her play Harvest that deals with the exploitation of human body in the 21st century. Alienation and marginalization play a large role in her books. Her other works include Lights Out and Getting There. She does not write on the traditional subjects. Her play Harvest is about an impoverished family living in a single room in a chawl of Mumbai. Population explosion has rendered the city dwellers into helpless, poor, dehumanized lot who struggle for their survival. In this scenario, driven by hunger and unemployment, twenty-year-old Om Prakash decides to become an organ donor and mortgages his body to a white First World buyer. The playwright projects in her play a more serious grim and unpalatable world. But her play is rather intellectual and not suitable for stage. In her another play, Lights Out she draws our attention to the heart rendering screams of a woman, Leela that destroy the fabric of domesticity of a middle class couple. It is based on an incident of gang rape that occurred in a compound amidst a middle class community in Santa Cruz, Mumbai, 1982. The play unveils the presence of crime in the society, where the acts of sexual violence occur frequently and no one comes to the aid of victim. The people living in the neighboring buildings, due to fear, keep their lights off as everyone with their lights on had their windows smashed. The title Lights Out is suggestive in itself; depicting the darkness of fear and ignorance that requires contemporary concern. Women face violence in many aspects of their daily life. This violence is multi-faceted. It is not merely physical but more often mental and emotional. It is deeply complex, subtle and indirect, hard to recognize and much more difficult to overcome.

Through her Hidden Fires, Manjula Padmanabhan attempts to come to grips with the violence of our times. The play comprises of five powerful hard hitting monologues in which the playwright takes head on issues of violence, intolerance to others and narrow concepts of community and nation. The play was staged and directed by Arvind Gaur of Asmita theatre in August, 2004 in New Delhi. Even the director was greatly overwhelmed by the hard hitting monologues in the play. Theatre personality Jayant Kripalani was so moved by these monologues that he staged it in Kolkatta with the group, ‘The Red Curtain’. The five monologues are entitled Hidden Fires, Know the Truth, Famous Last Words, Points and Invocation. In Invocation the names of the ordinary people are used to create a memorial to all those killed by violence for no fault of their own, innocent victims whose names, sometimes have been the sole cause of their death. These monologues came after the 1992 Mumbai riots and the more recent Gujarat riots. The solo speaker begins to think of the other deaths that have occurred elsewhere in the world. It makes remember the horrors of partition, the Jews of Hitler’s Germany – six million who died in Europe. The memories of violence leave the viewers shaken and thoughtful. The play is highly thought provoking.

Meira Chand, the author of seven highly praised novels, is of Indian and Swiss parentage and was born and educated in London. Her novel, House of the Sun which was set in India was adapted for the stage in London and voted critics’ choice. It was the first all Asian play with an all Asian cast to be performed there.

Uma Parameswaran is an important name among Indian English Dramatists. She is a poet, a playwright, and a short story writer. While staying in India during 1960s she wrote Sons Must Die, a play based on the theme of the partition of 1947. Soon after that, a series of renowned plays followed: Meera (1971), Sita’s Promise (1981), Dear Deedi (1980), My Sister (1989), Rootless but Green are the Boulevard Trees (1998). All these plays are published in her collection, Sons Must Die and Other Plays in 1998 as a part of South Asian Canadian Literature Series (SACLIT), of which Uma Parameswaran is the general editor.

Sons Must Die exposes the experiences of three women in 1947 India. Pacifistic and prophetic in tone, the play depicts the horrors of war and is set in the backdrop of Kashmir (Indo-Pak War of 1947-48). Here three women from different parts from India: a Tamil Brahmin, Zohara Begum - a Muslim mother, and Prem Behn - a Punjabi mother all meet at Kashmir in search of their sons. All these three mothers have lost their sons who were at the battlefield fighting for Kashmir. The futility of war is apparent in the play.

On the contrary, Meera and Sita’s Promise set out to celebrate Indian Art Tradition and to acquaint the outsider about our culture tradition. Through her dance drama Meera, Uma Parameswaran using the familiar episodes in the life of Meera stretches the imagination of an outsider to grasp and comprehend the three roles given to Meera as Devki and Yasoda and finally as Radha and Meera’s faith in Krishna, her infinite love for Him. Here the dramatist emphasizes the mythical character of Lord Krishna as saviour of mankind and destroyer of evil. The three roles given to Meera – Devki, Yasoda and Radha symbolize the tireless effort of the finite to reach the infinite i.e. the final merging of the ‘atman’ with the ‘parmatman’.

Sita’s Promise brings epic India closer to modern Canada through myth and dance. This play was written for the Arangetram of the first graduates when Uma’s daughter was also one of those graduates. She depicts the plight of the immigrants’ and the pangs of alienation symbolically by the sufferings of the bird. The play constitutes testimony to Uma Parmeswaran’s cultural rootedness. The leading characters of this play are Rama, Sita and Lakshman from the Ramayana but the plot is purely imaginative and full of bold digressions.

Rootless but Green are the Boulevard Trees depicts real life, the people in the different events, situations and experiences. The play centres around an East Indian family living in the suburbs of Winnipeg, Canada. The characters of the play belong to three generations. The first generation that has spent most of their lives in India and has settled in Canada in their middle ages, the conflict is not as intense as their roots are still in India. But the second generation suffers worse as they think Canada is their land, try to send roots and get assimilated. As an expatriate writer, Uma Parameswaran attempts to ‘grab the best of two worlds’. Through the play, she gives more importance to family bondage and emotional ties between the family members, the core of Indian culture.

The Indian drama in English is yet to be flourished but we can predict a rich and fertile soil for the blooming and blossoming of the tree of the same. In fact, there have been serious and sincere efforts for the theatre-oriented plays. The women playwrights have something distinct to offer to the audience. They have given new dimensions by infusing new type into this genre. They focus the issues like violence: physical, mental and several other aspects of it. They have proved through their plays that they fulfil the specific demands of theatre.

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