Savita Kundra’s “Ek Akeli Aurat” was a sensitive portrayal of a woman struggling to survive in a macho world

Recipient of the 1997 Nobel Prize in literature, Dario Fo’s two plays — “Accidental Death of an Anarchist” and “Can’t Pay? Won’t Pay!” – are widely performed on the Delhi stage by different directors with varying success and continue to attract a large number of audience because of their exposure of anti-people policies of the establishment through the elements of satire, farce and comedy. One of the greatest Italian actors, playwrights and political campaigners, he wants to uphold the dignity of the oppressed through his plays. His play “A Woman Alone”, which he wrote in collaboration with Rame, presented by Sehar at Akshara Theatre this past week, is probably seen for the first time in Delhi. A solo piece, it offers a challenging role for an actor to bring alive various facets of a complex character and evoke moods ranging from pathos to anguish and tragic to comic. Sehar’s production is aptly designed and admirably performed by a talented actor and these two aspects are able to hold our interest throughout the show.

Translated into Hindi as “Ek Akeli Aurat” by well-known theatre practitioner Himanshu B. Joshi, the play depicts the sufferings of a woman in a macho world. She is locked in her flat by her jealous, cruel and mentally sick husband. She has to confront three men who are crazy and possessive. Her brother-in-law in plaster is bed-ridden and sex starved. She has to protect herself from an aggressive young man passionately in love with her. Their affair starts during one of the tuition classes (he teaches her) in her flat. Once, her husband catches her red-handed in a compromising position with the young man. Beaten mercilessly, she is now kept locked in the flat. The husband keeps on heaving filthy abuses on her for her adulterous act. Her mad young lover continues to make frantic efforts to break open the lock of the front door. She continues to make pleas by climbing up on the portable stair kept in the room not to create scene and leave her in peace. This makes him all the more determined and aggressive to enter the room by force.

And as if this embarrassment and torture were not enough, she needs to attend to her baby who keeps on screaming all the time. Her brother-in-law needs her and shouts at regular intervals. She has to do household chores, adding drudgery to her tormented world from which she has no hope of redemption.

The Akshara Theatre appears suitable for the performance of one actorplay. It has two levels. As soon as the play opens we watch a young woman on the upper level spreading out three large pieces of fabric, each having male figure printed on it. Their shape indicates that the elderly with a pot belly is the husband of the woman, the young and smart figure stands for the one passionately in love with her and the third figure indicates her brother-in-law. And then the performer comes down on the ground level. Gradually, she gives life to the tormented world of her character and the men who has made her life hellish. In tune with the requirement of the solo piece, all the characters remain offstage. The performer is alone on the stage.Directed and performed by Savita Kundra, the fine aspect of the production is that she has imaginatively used all the objects placed on the stage, often raising them to the level of characters. Through her interactions with these objects she creates dramatic situations. She also explores the opportunity of improvisation the play offers to a talented actor. The frequent ringing of telephone bell brings more information about her life and her link with the outside world. This also reinforces her sense of alienation and bitterness caused by her captivity. She uses the portable stair to peep out to converse with her lover. The bucket with water is used to indicate the violence her husband has perpetrated on her. By ensuring the continuity of the action on the stage, the audience are allowed to engage with the production which ends on a shocking note.

A graduate from National School of Drama, Savita Kundra gives a convincing performance, displaying the sensitivity of her art as an actor. However, the primary mood in the production is that of pathos and bitterness. Savita could have exploited the elements of farce and comedy inherent in the play by giving light touch to her conversation with a woman on telephone, who tells her that her husband has made her young daughter pregnant. Similarly, she could have amused the audience while talking to the creditors of her husband through the stair, posing as the maid of the house. However, on the whole the play emerges as a voice expressing concern about the deplorable condition of women in a society dominated by men.