A woman of great character

DISPELLING SUPERSTITION Artistes enacting the play   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

One of the greatest contemporary Indian writers who wrote in Bengali, Mahasweta Devi's work is protest against unjust social and economic system which robs a marginalised section of society of dignity and freedom. A social activist, she identified herself with the oppressed to capture the stark realism of the dehumanised world in which they are condemned to live. Naturally, film directors who adhere to social realism were attracted by her fiction and so are stage directors.

Kalpana Lajmi directed Mahasweta's “Rudaali” with music by Bhupen Hazarika. The film version of her novel “Hazaar Chaurasi Ki Maa”, which was directed by Govind Nihalani, won National Award for Best Feature Film in Hindi in 1998. As far as stage adaptation of her fictional work is concerned, we have witnessed some productions, especially “Hazaar Chaurasi Ki Maa”, “Rudali” and “Bayen” by senior as well as amateur directors.

Mahasweta Devi

Mahasweta Devi   | Photo Credit: M. SUBHASH


Recently discerning theatre lovers watched “Bayen” presented by Repertory Company of National School of Drama at Abhimanch. It was dramatised , designed and directed by Usha Ganguli, a seasoned director and actor, whose productions are well known to Delhi audience. Honoured with several awards including Sangeet Natak Akademi award, earlier she had directed “Rudali” which was widely appreciated for its realistic depiction of the struggle of women who have little time to weep over their personal tragedies but wail uncontrollably and beat chest to mourn the death of the rich to earn a living. In “Bayen” In case of her production of Bayan Usha's emphasis seems to be more on production values and style rather than to capture the stark realism in which the theme is set. There are beautifully composed scenes, soothing refrain of lullaby, elegantly designed costumes, ritualistic sequences to capture marriage ceremony. All these elements provide us with colourful spectacles. But “Bayen” is about oppressive reality of a decadent system and its dehumanizing effect.

The play revolves around Chandi Dasi who belongs to Dom, the Mahadalit community, who are assigned by a rigid caste system the duty of burying dead animals. The job is done by the male members of the community. After her father’s death, Chandi Das takes up this responsibility as no male is alive in the family. There is another significant male character named Mahinder, who works in a mortuary to remove the flesh from dead human bodies transforming them into skeletons. He marries lonely Chandi and both live happily and a male baby is born to them whose is named Bhagirath.

Tragedies strike

Tragic events take place in the community. Its illiterate and superstitious members solely hold Chandi responsible for the calamity. In their strident voices and misplaced anger they brand her bayen—witch. She is a mother of an infant, wife and performing her duty as a grave digger for dead animals but the community is in no mood to listen to any sane voice. One night while it is raining heavily some people discover that Chandi is moving desperately around the burial ground, covering the graves of children to protect from the hungry jackals who are digging out bodies. Soon enough it is rumoured in the community that Chandi is eating the dead children. The irony is that her own dear husband believes that she is really a bayen an evil force to be kept away from society. Ostracised, she is forced to live far away from community and whenever she happens to come to the community, she should warn members to keep away from her, keep her eyes down cast, ringing a bell as warning to go away from she-devil.

The society with a stony-heart has been constantly inflicting on vulnerable woman physical, mental and emotional wounds. The climactic scene is vital where Chandi fights against dacoits trying to rob a train sacrificing her life to save the lives of passengers and public property. The director has set this scene upstage with lighting style that lends ambiguity to the scene. If the scene is enacted on the centre stage, it would have effectively elevated the character of Chandi to the level of truly tragic one, awakening the guilty conscience of the people to the fact that the so-called bayen is in reality a woman of great character who is compassionate, heroic and humane.

Last year Bela Theatre, an amateur group under the direction of Amar Sah produced “Bayen” as “Dayan” which deeply shocked and disturbed the audience.

Bornali Borah as Chandi Dasi imparts to her portrayal emotional depth and inner motivation evoking empathy for her pitiable condition and admiration for her martyrdom. Deep Kumar as her husband gives creditable performance. Sikandra Kumar as Bhagirath, the son of the ostracised Chandi Dasi loves his mother convinced about her innocence.

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Printable version | Jul 22, 2021 11:35:58 PM |

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