Tribute Theatre

An undercurrent of anguish

As a tribute to Santwana Nigam, four of her short stories were staged recently in Delhi

Theatre lovers hold Santwana Nigam in high regard for her contribution to enrich Hindi theatre by her translation of significant Bengali drama by playwrights like Mohit Chatterjee, Debashish Mazumdar, Utpal Dutt and Manoj Mitra which were mostly produced under the direction of Rajinder Nath. Apart from her translation of Bengali plays, she was also a fine Hindi short story writer whose craft was marked by effortless flow, capturing the stark reality of the life of women struggling to make their lives meaningful in a world dominated by men. Born in Dehradun in 1933, she died recently.

To pay tribute to this sensitive writer with indefatigable courage , Nepathya Foundation enacted her four short stories at Alliance Francaise recently. Ingeniously conceived, all the four stories reflected strong feminist outlook with an undercurrent of anguish.

Entitled “Sehaj Ka Sargam”, it is directed by Rajinder Nath, veteran theatre director, who founded Abhiyan in 1967 with the objective of producing plays in Hindi version of dramatic works from other Indian languages. Some of his productions like “Jat Na Poochho Sadhu Ki”, a Hindi translation of Vijay Tendulkar’s Marathi play have record shows. One of the hallmarks of his productions is that he shuns pomposity in his design and gives his actors creative freedom for improvisation. True to his artistic credo, “Sehaj Ka Sargam” unfolds on a bare stage. The way the costumes are designed and the acting style follow the pattern of down to earth realism. We discern dialectical unity between the content and form.

The evening opened with “Pehali Paudi” which unfolded the sense of togetherness and an innate desire to help out needy students whose parents are not able to meet the expenses of lodging for their children. This idea is revealed through the interactions of three characters – a middle-aged lady, her granny and grandfather. The old woman tells her grand daughter with a sense of nostalgia about a number of students belonging to her relatives and even distant ones who used to stay with the family. Lawyer by profession, the head of the family is a miser but when it comes to giving food and lodging to new students, he would gladly agree.

The grand daughter, who is now a teacher in a town far away from her home, tells her grandmother that many students who once stayed with the couple have achieved high positions but have forgotten their benefactors. Far from expressing any grudge, the granny feels a sense of pride. Mala Kumar as the middle-aged unmarried woman, who is a teacher, wants her grandmother to stay with her for sometimes as she is alone. Shipra Das as the old lady exudes a sense of pride and independence that prefers to stay at her own house and wants to be sent back to her home. Both these performers create convincing portraits of their characters.

This was followed by “Bas Sirf Isiliye”. It captures a man and a woman trying to terminate their long relationship with the man betraying timidity, and is apologetic. The woman has dared to break up with her husband and is staying with her two children . Through dialogue, movements and facial expressions, the performers are able to create a hush-hush atmosphere. Rekha Johri as the woman gives a satisfying performance. Sanjiv Johri as the man acts with restraint, delivering his lines in a muted voice which enables him to create a creditable portrait.

In “Pankh”, we watch the struggle of an ambitious woman to achieve an independent and meaningful status in society rather than becoming perpetually subservient to the husband. In misogynist disdain, the husband condemns her ambition as her wings to fly and tries to clip them. But the woman’s defiance becomes all the more determined. After completing her studies, she accepts a job away from home as a teacher. To launch a frontal attack, the husband leaves their two children with his wife to be free from all responsibilities. Mala Kumar as the wife, who has achieved her ambition, creates the portrait of a strong and resolute woman.

The concluding piece of the evening evoking somber mood was titled “Saath” which focuses on the conjugal life of an old couple who keeps bickering over petty issues and yet they continue to live together for long years. Despite all these trivial differences, which have ingrained in their psyche, there runs a tender feeling they share for one another. The narrative is revealed with the visit of working daughter to her parents. Shruti Singhal as the daughter, V.K. Bindu as the aged father and Shipra Das as the mother impart deft strokes to their characters.

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Printable version | Feb 19, 2020 3:45:34 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/theatre/as-a-tribute-to-santwana-nigam-four-of-her-short-stories-were-staged-recently-in-delhi/article28095187.ece

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