Theatre

Mahasweta Devi’s fictional world comes alive through Stella Maris College’s annual production

The Stella Players raises powerful questions against the society, through their play, On Both Sides

A noisy group of girls, sits huddled in a corner of Stella Maris College’s ashen F block. They are running their lines as they impatiently wait for the auditorium to be free. Amid peals of laughter and constant chatter, they take their lines as the director looks on amused. As the decibel levels increase, they are met with irritated stares. To which one of them delightfully goes, “Come for the college play this weekend!” That’s some marketing done right! More laughter ensues. The Stella Players is evidently excited to present the college play, after three long years. This year, under the wing of theatre director and activist A Mangai, this jovial bunch delves deep into the fictional world of prolific Bengali writer, Mahasweta Devi through its production, On Both Sides.

I am told not to be fooled by their casual tones and incessant laughter. For the play itself takes a darker demeanour on stage.

The play opens with a group of four discussing various issues — social, political and economical — as they watch the day’s news. Eagerly they weigh options on how they can possibly initiate a dialogue about these issues. As conversations grow, Devi’s characters visit the contemporary world to tell their stories; soon enough characters from today’s reality too come forward to narrate theirs.

Mahasweta Devi’s fictional world comes alive through Stella Maris College’s annual production

Peppered with captivating tunes, effortlessly harmonised and sung by the actors themselves, and subtle movements that manifests the worlds they are in, the narration moves forward. The intensity too, grows with it. Interestingly, the script of this 70-odd minutes-long play was developed by a student team of seven with the help of a faculty member. “We thought of characters from real life that will match the author’s characters. Most of them were familiar to us, except in the section with breast cancer: In that we wanted to personify something that was faced by a lot of women,” says Nirupama Thomas, who plays Moyna (from Devi’s The Why Why Girl). Thus Anjalai, a woman with breast cancer is contrasted with the character of Devi’s Sthanadharini and Bayen. While the curious little girl Moyna listens patiently to Asifa’s story and the fierce Dopdi — “who made her body her weapon” — joins hands with Thangjam Manorama, the brutalised victim of AFSPA. And Devi’s renowned character of all time, Nishadin, discusses ecological issues with Geetha, the activist from the Kadanar tribe in Vazhachal (Kerala).

“They thought of a mirror, through which the characters pass to meet each other. I didn’t want the girls to have a male character that they would try and project. Mahasweta Devi, came up, thus. But, it was a pleasant surprise to see them connect her characters to today’s Asifa, Gauri Lankesh, Thangjam Manorama and so on,” says the director, adding that her favourite character would always be Moyna. “I think, through Moyna, Devi leaves us with a legacy of constantly asking questions,” she continues.

Mahasweta Devi’s fictional world comes alive through Stella Maris College’s annual production

On Both Sides, thus, effortlessly marries Devi’s memorable, strong-as-steel women characters and current issues, leaving the audience with lingering thoughts about everything that is wrong with today’s society. “In fact, I specifically want people who think that these problems are taboo, to come and watch it. It’s high time!” says one of the cast members. As I prepare to leave, the girls, now relatively calmer and in character, unanimously say: “The characters have seeped in so much, that we call each other by character names.” Minutes after the run-through, the girls are back at it again, excitement at an all time high.

On Both Sides will be staged on February 22 (at 2 pm and 6 pm), February 23 (at 5.30 pm) and February 24 (2 pm and 5 pm) at St Francis Hall, Stella Maris College. Tickets at ₹500 (for the front row), ₹250 and ₹150 (for students). Call 9003226324 or visit www.bookmyshow.com.

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Printable version | Apr 2, 2020 11:36:17 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/theatre/on-both-sides-stella-maris-college-production/article26331180.ece

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