Old story, novel treatment

Capturing woman’s anguish: A scene from the play  

The dominant theme of Kirti Jain’s oeuvre is to portray deep-rooted malaise in Indian society to make the members of the audience aware of social antagonism. A former director of the National School of Drama and recipient of Sangeet Natak Akademi award, Kirti’s revival of “Subarnalata”, which she directed for Kshitij and was staged at Stein Auditorium, India Habitat Centre, recently, reinforces her social commitment as an artist. An austere production, the focus is to unravel threads of the tormented world of a woman in a seamless manner.

Kirti Jain

Kirti Jain  

Adapted by Geetanjali Shree, novelist, short-story writer and a playwright, from Ashapoorna Debi’s celebrated novel in three parts, the play traces the growth of Indian feminism from colonial to post-colonial India. We have seen the stage adaptation of Geetanjali’s novel “Hamara Sheher Us Baras” which was directed by Kirti Jain not long ago. Its spectacular design projected the vast canvas of the novel by exploring the theatrical space vertically and horizontally. In the Hindi adaptation of “Subarnalata”, Geetanjali has captured the language and idiom of a middle class family in which women are treated as commodity. Her dialogues are simple and are laced with disparaging remarks that are made against women. Like “Ladki Ka Asli Ghar Sasural Hi Hota Hain” – (daughter’s true home is in-law’s house” and “Biwi Ka Ghulam”– (henpecked husband) – reserved for one who treats his wife with respect. These dialogues betray the inhuman treatment meted out to women in a patriarchal society.

The play’s opening scene is set in the centre downstage with Subarnalata sitting underneath a near-worn out table. She takes out her dolls from an old-fashioned trunk and plays out the game about her life as a child. Suddenly, an old woman enters and sits on the table. Though conceived and enacted in an unaffected manner with a touch of spontaneity, it assumes the significance of a prologue, setting the tone for unravelling the past, present and future of the struggle for women’s emancipation. While depicting the time and suffering of Subarnalata, the production provides a historical perspective of Indian women’s struggle to achieve their dignity as human beings.


Called Majhili Bahu, the wife of the second son, there is already a stigma attached to Subarnalata on account of her mother who has the courage to revolt against the suffocating middle class family’s conventions and for starting a school for girls.

Subarnalata dares to face her domineering and cruel mother-in-law. In fact, the middle class in which Subarnalata lives is the large joint family ruled by the mother-in-law. Nobody could dare to oppose her dictatorial decisions.

The house in which the joint family lives has no verandah and windows that could be opened to the outside world. The ladies of the house are confined within these terrifying four walls. Initially, Subarnalata’s husband shares some happy moments with her but her loving attitude towards his wife angers the mother-in-law and other family membersand gradually he shows his true colour and leaves no stone unturned to humiliate Subarnalata. He finally forces her to leave for her father’s house where she is not welcomed because she has come alone. Where she should go now? Her father insists that she should go to her true home – the house of her in-laws but the in-laws want her to stay with her father.

Subarnalata has inherent thirst for knowledge and keen desire to visit new places and see vast ocean. Since the married woman is strictly prohibited to read and write, she would surreptitiously get books from her friend next door. Once she gets caught reading a book, she is beaten black and blue. The tortuous world she lives in is like a prison from which she is trying hard to escape.

Intense drama

As the narrative moves forward, the past and the present converge. She joins the Swadeshi movement, burning foreign goods publicly. Her children also join her. Again, through the device of letter, she encounters her rebel mother and exchange views on brutal functioning of patriarchy.

The sensitive direction and the performer’s ingenuity to internalise the dilemma of their characters create the right ambience transforming the production into an intense drama. The music by Anuradha Kapur, which is blended with other expressive theatrical elements, is remarkable for its subtlety and intricacy which produced emotional impact on to the audience. These days such artistic treatment of stage music is rarely seen on the Delhi stage.

The denouement where Subarnalata is highly elevated to see her book in print but her moment of triumph turns into utter shock and humiliation shaking her entire being when she hears the disdainful and mocking comments of her husband and son on her book. The dramatic power with which the scene is enacted leaves you stunned .

Lovely Raj as Subarnalata gives a brilliant performance, internalising the emotional and psychological wounds inflicted by her husband and mother-in-law. Her Subarnalata is candidly frank and humane as she faces sustained torture.

Bharti Sharma as the cruel and domineering mother-in-law makes her scenes pulsate with life. Anurag Thakur as the mean, greedy and brute husband of Subarnalata and Prabhat Mishra as the kind hearted son-in-law, fit the parts.

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Printable version | Apr 11, 2021 8:37:30 PM |

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