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Happenstance Vaishali Bhisht: ‘It just happens that I am a woman and I reflect experiences in an urban setting’
Happenstance Vaishali Bhisht: ‘It just happens that I am a woman and I reflect experiences in an urban setting’

Vaishali Bhisht became a scriptwriter director as it was difficult to find people who did both

Vaishali Bisht enjoyed acting in a play when she was nine and went on to graduate from the University of Kent in Canterbury, England in Theatre and Drama Studies. The Hyderabad-based playwright, director and actor was in Bangalore with her crew to stage the self-scripted “Face Off” (a set of five monologues) and “Write, Rite and Right”.

Says Vaishali, “It just happens that I am a woman and I am reflecting the experiences of what happens when you’re in an urban setting.” Vaishali wants her audience to think about her play.“I want to exist as a member of society and in doing so, the audience also becomes part of the same and shares what has being performed.”

Becoming a script-writer, director and actor for Vaishali has been out of compulsion. “It was difficult to find a director with a script.” Shimmering white curtains, a pair of sequined peep-toe sandals on the floor, candles flickering and Indian music playing made for a dreamy setting for the first monologue. “Waiting for Mr. Right” looked at the life of Shama, a woman in purdah who is ever hopeful of a prince in shining armour. Despite the enchanted setting, the lines were inaudible. “Tit for Tat” followed Shivani, a successful career woman played by Smriti Thapa. Though again, the direction was striking Smriti’s acting was bereft of emotion or intensity. Her delivery was marred by a bad accent, diction and pauses.

“Man of my Dreams” looked at Swati, a teenaged girl who is again longing for Mr. Right. The repetitive portrayal of women as eternally waiting for the man of her dreams was oppressive. Says Vaishali: “The idea was to delve into the internal landscape of a woman, rather than look at her inner thoughts as defined by patriarchal society.”

“Man of my Dreams” and “An Affair to Remember” only endorsed the concept of women waiting for things to happen to them. “One” looked at Neelam, a desperately lonely and insecure divorced woman in her home. There was no fresh insight even though Sheila Naidu’s acting enunciated the angst well.

This portrayal of passive women even if it were subversive, was worrying as the audience identified with the stereotyping and reinforced the archetypes. “Write, Rite and Right” was a breather in comparison to the first play. Different selves that spring out from Prerna, the struggling writer as Sigmund Freud’s superego, ego and id was imaginative. This time, Vaishali came out of the shadow of the director/playwright to play Prerna. Her acting was natural, voice louder than the others and the setting moved from a drawing room to a make-believe exhibition hall.

The crude jokes about what a writer should write was a hit with the audience.“The role is more person-oriental and the first impression that men have of a woman’s libido is demonic – something with excesses and sins.”

The suggestive lines were pitiable and made you want to cringe, as you could not even bring yourself to laugh at the sheer stupidity. However, it was interesting to see how Prerna’s plot evolves and comes to life. The acting of the Id – Chetan and Superego – Madhu Swaminathan was rather silly and overdone.

What was stimulating and refreshing was the monologue delivered by Prerna’s mother (Sheila Naidu) – a part which finally saw a character who was tired of playing a boxed role in society and constantly living for everyone else, except herself. Vaishali feels, “The acting plays a lead role in the plays. The actors have done a good job in giving life to the lines.” She adds that perfection in a stage performance can happen only once. Chips in Sheila Naida about her character, “This is something that almost every mother will identify with.”

The writer is trying to live life on her own terms, refuses to be bogged down by society. But the woman’s libido did play out a compartmentalised process of how a woman should think in society – with some Ally McBeal scenes playing themselves out.

While “Write, Rite and Right” did offer some relief in parts, it did not balance out the evening’s performance. The plays were indicative and mirrored what high-society women think and do at any point and reached out to a similar audience.

States Vaishali: “For once, this is an all-female cast with only two men, rather than vice-versa!” She concludes, “Do theatre only if you must and can’t live without it – not if it is last thing you do.”

AYESHA MATTHAN

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