Although “Shishu O Janani” has more words than actions, efficient acting by the cast helped the play to sustain interest

A young woman is in the labour room of a nursing home. Her in-laws and parents are in the waiting room. There is a touch of animosity and distrust in their interactions and conversations. This is the basic premise of “Shishu O Janani” written and directed by Dyan Rosendra Mukujje and staged by Sutradhaar Theatre Group Trust recently at New Delhi’s LTG auditorium.

Although there is little action and it is verbose, the play comes alive because of the good acting by most of the performers. The hostile postures between the in-laws and parents of the woman in labour gradually develop into polemics. In the process, the characters’ social status, world outlook and hypocrisy are revealed.

Abhiranjan, the woman’s husband, comments sparingly. His father-in-law Bhabatosh Roy is a senior bureaucrat. He is flamboyant, haughty and aggressive. A man with a superiority complex, he looks down on his daughter’s in-laws. As soon as he enters the waiting room, he mocks at the name of the nursing home — Ma Sasti. To flaunt his riches, he pays the bill of the nursing home, and sends his son to buy the medicines required for his daughter. In contrast, woman’s father-in-law is a serious and unassuming scholar who does not get provoked by the implicitly derogatory remarks of the senior bureaucrat. From time to time ladies belonging to the ‘warring’ camps get excited and impart heat to the polemics.

Most of them seem to have forgotten about the woman in the labour room in their battle to establish their superiority over each other. Only Nilanjana, the budding television journalist and the woman’s sister-in-law, longingly talks about the baby to be delivered. With beaming face she speaks of how she plans to first take the baby to Ma Sasti, a goddess considered an embodiment of motherly virtues in folk culture, for her blessings.

Suddenly the treating gynaecologist enters the waiting room and says the case has developed serious complications and she could save either the mother or the child. “You have to decide and tell us your option within 20 minutes,” says the doctor. Stunned, the husband is in a dilemma. He is not able to express his option. The parents and the in-laws keep on debating, which generates heat and occasional tears by the female members. The deadlock remains unsolved.

Director-writer Mukujje is an experienced theatre artiste. When he was young he saw Shambhu Mitra’s epoch-making production of Rabindranath Tagore’s “Rakt Karbi” several times and interacted with Utpal Dutt and saw his revolutionary productions. With these impressions during his young life in Kolkata, he has been endeavouring to create meaningful Bengali theatre in Delhi. His latest venture seems to have been inspired by the concept of the unity of time, place and action. But his characterisation is sketchy and there is little scope for reflecting psychological subtleties. Initially, the play gives the impression that it’s a comment on gender issues; then it takes the shape of a clash of egos; then it gives the idea of a celebration of the developments in medical science in the service of humanity.

Towards the end the character of the professor reflects in an intellectual vein on the conflicting nature of man — creator and destroyer. His philosophical comment is contradicted with poetic eloquence by the young journalist who says that finally it is the eternal rhythm of life that prevails in the midst of chaos and destruction. The production would have gained strength if the writer-director had given a single-minded thematic focus: the life affirming idea of the young woman.

Among the positives, the offstage sounds are used effectively and the way the cries of the newborn are used is remarkable for its impact on the in-laws and parents. A sense of disquiet prevails.

Tapan Guha as the father-in-law of Abhiranjan gives a convincing performance Subrata Chakraborty as the professor and father of Abhiranjan acts with restraint, and towards the end reveals the deeply felt thought of an intellectual about the human condition. Puja Paul as the young television journalist brings to her role liveliness, conviction and youthful energy.