Launch: Abhinaya is giving shape to a play that will be premiered in the city on March 8. The directors and actors talk to Saraswathy Nagarajan about the women-centric play that comprises monologues.
Six women. Six tales of rage, regret, resentment, reservation, resolution and revenge. Each story, based on real-life incidents that questioned and moved the conscience of Kerala, is enacted by some of the best actors in the State – veterans and newcomers. Together, like pieces in a jigsaw puzzle, they portray the big picture of a society in rapid transition and question the existing status quo of women in the State and the patriarchal attitudes that give rise to such a situation.
At a theatre camp at Plathara on the outskirts of the city, the actors are busy moulding the play that is bound to move any viewer. Dialogues are edited and punch lines added, voices are modulated and moderated, movements are pared and reworked while the actors get their lines right, all under the scrutiny of veteran theatre directors D. Reghoothaman and M.G. Jyothish.
Directed by Reghoothaman and Jyothish of Abhinaya, the play is being sponsored by the Department of Social Justice and allied institutions that come under it. “I was in Rajasthan with Footsbarn when I got a call from the Department. They wanted me to design a play that would not only make people aware of the gender disparity rampant in society but also make women realise the importance of speaking up against injustice. I spoke to theatrepersons Parvathi and Jyothish, both of whom felt we could develop the idea into a play despite the paucity of time. Parvathi developed the script and the dramaturgy,” says Reghoothaman.
Custodial rape, infanticide, moral policing, incest, paedophilia, child marriage and domestic violence are tackled sensitively by the women. Titled ‘Irayodu Mathramalla Samsarikendathu’, the 90-minute play has stories of women juxtaposed with views of men trying to justify their patriarchal and chauvinistic attitude. Video projections of contemporary events in India complete the picture of a deeply divided society struggling to cope with the transition that challenges the established hierarchy in all spheres of life.
Sujatha Jananethri, Surabhi, Shalilaja Ambu, Parvathi, Chinu Kuruvilla and Babila Khan essay the women in the play while ace actors Gopalan, Anil, Ajay, Pratheesh and Baiju play the male characters.
“It is six monologues complemented by the monologues of the men and certain simple props that will not distract attention from the theme of the play. Each segment is multi-layered and takes on the establishment’s insensitive attitude towards women and women-centric problems,” says Parvathi, who herself essays a hard-hitting tale of loneliness within a marriage and the corrosive effects of moral policing.
While Surabhi effortlessly slips into the skin of a Tamilian migrant who flees her husband’s home to save her daughter from infanticide, Sujatha plays a grieving grandmother who has lost her granddaughter to a paedophile who raped and killed the child. Sujatha, who won the Sangeet Akademi Award for the best actress, says the actors themselves are going through an emotional rollercoaster as they give life to the women and their heart-rending stories. Shailaja’s character has no name. But then her name is irrelevant for her story is universal – she is a victim of domestic violence. Instead of raving and ranting, Shailaja narrates her travails with a touch of sarcasm and humour, which, in a way, underlines the helplessness of the victim. “I know a couple like this. So, it was easy to understand her predicament,” says Shailaja. In the same way, Babila, who enacts the tragedy and bewilderment of a child bride, says her acquaintance with such a girl-woman helped her flesh out her character. Chinnu plays a woman who was forced into an incestuous relationship in her childhood.
“I feel that this play, which has the potential to really give a wake-up call to society, merely skims through the problems faced by women. In a 90-minute play, we can only touch upon certain issues and its cause and effect. But the real problem lies within each of us when we deny a woman her place in society. I feel that many women and men are living in a state of denial that is doing neither of them any good. This play exhorts women to stand up and speak out against the atrocities instead of accepting it and trying to build their lives around it,” says Jyothish.
A spokesperson of the Department of Social Justice says that the play was conpceptualised to protest against rising incidence of violence against women and injustice.
‘‘Irayodu Mathramalla Samsarikendathu’ will be staged at the auditorium of the Government College of Women on the occasion of International Women’s Day on March 8. Entry is free. The play travels to Kozhikode (March14) and Kochi (March 17).