Sehar interpreted Jayashankar Prasad’s iconic play from the viewpoint of women’s liberation.
Sehar, an amateur dramatic group, is known for presenting experimental and socially relevant plays. Some of its memorable productions include “Bahut Raat Ho Chali Hai” and “Sultan Tipu.” In almost all its productions, there are undercurrents of protest of the dispossessed against an exploitative society. Its latest production of Jayashankar Prasad’s “Dhruvaswamini” (1933) reiterates the group’s professed objective of protest against oppression and the spirit of experimentation in theatrical art.
A pioneer of new dramatic movement in Hindi in terms of content and form, Prasad’s plays were once considered not stage worthy by Hindi scholars, but they adored their great literary value. It was Shanta Gandhi who re-discovered the dramatic splendour of Prasad’s plays, by staging the historical play “Skanda Gupta” (1928) with little changes to the original script.
Further explorations of Prasad’s plays were done by B.V. Karanth, Ram Gopal Bajaj and Devendra Raj Ankur. Among Prasad’s plays — “Ajatasatru”, “Skanda Gupta”, “Chandra Gupta” and “Dhruvaswamini” — it is “Dhruvaswamini” which has been frequently staged by different directors interpreting it in different ways. An M. Phil in theatre and performances from Jawaharlal Nehru University, Mrityunjay Prabhakar, one of the founders of Sehar, has been active in theatre as a scholar and practitioner for over a decade.
In his production of “Dhruvaswamini” he has tried to give a new dimension to the character of Dhruvaswamini, giving it a powerful voice of women’s liberation. He has created two characters of Dhruvaswamini — one performer occupies centrestage and another remains upstage as the shadow of the main character to impart intensity to the inner conflict of the female protagonist.
Another aspect of Mrituyunjay’s production is his experiment with dialogue. Prasad is essentially a poet, and the poet in him manifests in the dialogue of his plays. Some of Mrityunjay’s characters, like Koma, wife of warrior Shakaraj, and her father, speak in Hariyanvi. This experiment tends to be a gimmick. He has not paid adequate attention to the Hindi pronunciation. The original dialogues are not only lyrically beautiful but pregnant with meaning and these meanings are revealed through delivery — spoken dramatically and correctly. Similarly showing Koma’s father in western outfits did not appear appropriate.
To conceptualise the character of Ramgupt as a caricature with gestures of an eunuch and the sequence enacted by three physically deformed men before Ramgupt aptly mocked incompetent rulers. Various-sized raised platforms don’t allow performers uninhibited freedom of movement. Instead, the play should have been mounted on a bare stage.
On the whole, the production brings to the fore the central theme of the play: the liberation of women. Himadri Ketu and Sharddha Lambe bring conviction and intensity to their character of Dhruvaswamini. This character refuses to accept Ramgupt, an incompetent, cowardly and jealous ruler as husband. Vikas Singh played Chandragupt, a valiant fighter and humanist who rescues Druvaswamini from Shakaraj, an invader, who agrees for peace with Ramgupt if he hands over his wife Dhruvaswamini to him. Pallavi and Dipti Tambe as Mandakini and Nisthasri Awasthi as Koma, the betrayed wife of Shakaraj, acted admirably — they impart to the production a distinct feminist point of view to reflect contemporary sensibilities.