‘The Skeleton Woman’ weaves together an Inuit folk tale and a modern-day story about a writer and his long-suffering wife
Quaff Theatre (Mumbai)
A hungry fisherman dropped his hook in a deserted bay. When he felt a powerful tug, he pulled back excitedly, anticipating something big.
He was right. But what emerged was a tangled, dangling, terrifying skeleton of a woman. He paddled back to shore as fast as he could. She followed. He ran home. She followed. He entered his hut. She followed.
Then, in the light of the fire, he looked at her and felt pity. He straightened her, untangled her and sang her a song. And his compassion brought her back to life.
When Kalki Koechlin stumbled upon this Inuit folk tale, she found that it began to haunt her, much like its central character haunted the fisherman. Realising she just had to do something about it, she began to write a play, and then ironically found herself echoing the feelings of her protagonist, a writer who could never finish anything he started.
Then, she met Prashant Prakash and they wrote the play together, weaving the folk tale into their modern-day story about this writer and his long-suffering wife. The play, starring its writers, went on to win the MetroPlus playwright award 2009.
Recently premiered at Prithvi Theatre, Mumbai, this is Quaff Theatre’s first production. The team’s one request, however, is that you “do not expect anything from this play.” They reason, “Expectations limit the mind to what we already know. We expect a beginning and an end, we expect a linear narrative, we expect a plot. We expect seriousness, we expect stability, we expect to believe what we see. But, expectations seek to compromise the imagination and ‘The Skeleton Woman’ is a play that stands on only one rather elusive leg, that of the imagination.”
Director’s Cut : Nayantara Kotian
It isn’t often that two people who write a play come together to act in it. Does this pose a special challenge for the director — dealing with actors who might differ with you on how to interpret a situation or flesh out a character?
In theory yes, but in practice, no; our process during ‘The Skeleton Woman’ was extremely democratic with all three of us working as a team on all aspects of the play. Our roles were not as clearly defined as those in most productions. I, as the director, wanted to stay as true to the script as I could, but what worked on page did not necessarily work on the floor.
So, the script definitely changed after I came in, but again, the changes came out of group decisions on what was best for the play.
For a complex play, it seems to have met with some critical appreciation in Mumbai and Delhi. Has the play struck a chord with audiences?
I feel there is a lot in the play that is universal. The struggle of a writer. Displacement. Love. A relationship that has its ups and downs. I think, finally, the audience will be left with a love story about two people who defeat literally fantastical odds to be together.
The play won the MetroPlus Playwright Award 2009. As a director, do you think such awards encourage the creation of new and better scripts for theatre?
Yes, of course. Winning the Metroplus Playwright award this year definitely encouraged Kalki and Prashant to take their writing to new levels, and I think that says it all.