Nireeksha’s ‘Punarjani’ explored and expressed the tragedy of gender inequality that seems to be a constant in Indian society.

“You might identify the body of your woman by the marks on her skin, but tell me, have you ever seen the marks of life in them when they were alive?” says one of the actors in ‘Punarjani’, a play.

The staging of ‘Punarjani’ is part of a quest to find the essence of a woman through drama, yet another step for Nireeksha, a women’s theatre group in Thiruvananthapuram that is interpreting and producing plays from a feminist perspective. ‘Punarjani’, which tears into the patriarchal attitude of society, mesmerised the audience at Vyloppilly Samskriti Bhavan in Thiruvananthapuram.

Punarjani, the lead character in the eponymous play, visits three women belonging to various generations, just minutes before they are killed. She has the faculty to get into the bodies of the hapless women in order to feel what they had felt, before they succumbed to death. Punarjani struggles, fights, berates, fumes, dances and philosophises to save them, but at the end she has to let go; she is helpless in preventing the sufferings of the women. She dies all their deaths once again. Or perhaps, the women reenact their deaths before the seeker of truth.

Is the honour of a woman enhanced when she sacrifices her life for the people around her?

No. Sadly, we realise through the play, that even the corpses of women in a morgue are not secure. That raises another question. Are the women around us truly alive? Are they permitted to live their lives to the full? Even when they are alive, there are many women who are forced to live as zombies, helpless and voiceless.

Perhaps, for such a woman, nothing changes significantly with death.

Punarjani weaves in and out of other female psyches as the story proceeds, drinking from their cup of woes, struggling to break out and storm against the injustice. However, all is in vain as she forced to surrender with a whimper. . Her burden grows as she finds women yoked to attitudes that kill the spirit in each of them.

It was impossible for the viewer to disengage himself from the spectacle of limbs in a morgue being identified with the help of a mole or a wart body. These very same limbs must have been parts of women who were forced to commit suicide or were murdered. Finally, is the identify of a woman confined to a birth mark or a scar? Is a woman a physical presence? The play raised several uncomfortable questions about identify and status of women in society. The actors question, challenge and investigate the voyeurism and narcissism that is rampant in social media. One of the actors wonders what is that that gives her partner more pleasure – is it the moments they spend together or the responses their snaps receive in social media.

Every woman perishes. While one is consumed by the fire in her kitchen, another is swallowed by the well from where she fetches water, a third is choked to death. All three return to the elements.

The symbols, metaphors and the red-and-black colour scheme in the play speak volumes about the predicament of being a woman. The main set designed like a gigantic cage seems to intone her tales of sufferings and loss of freedom in silence. The quest to find the identity of woman rightfully began in a mortuary, where cold, frozen and lifeless bodies lay in heap. They would not respond when abused. How could they! Even when they were alive, they could hardly fight back. They live their lives and die, all in a frozen state.

‘Punarjani’, directed by Sudhi Devayani, sparkles not only for its strong script and adept direction, but also by the sheer energy let loose on stage. T.M. Sindhu as Punarjani was breathtaking as she took the audience along with her at every phase of the play. Lenin P.K. and Aswathy Chand also shone. Shibu S. Kottaram’s magnificent yet tasteful set designs, lights, music, and lyrics all took the play into deeper levels.

Sudhi says Punarjani’s quest to find the essence of womanhood reflects Nireeksha’s efforts to create a space for feminist theatre. “Men can never understand or express the thoughts and emotions of a woman. That needs a woman like Punarjani.” Rajarajeswari’s high octane script never lagged or went away even for a minute. “Men hardly see beyond the physical periphery of a woman,” says Rajarajeswari, “and they don’t bother about the shallow vision, they have. That is the real tragedy.”