Story of a feisty warrior

HISTORY ON STAGE: A scene from the play “Teelu Rauteli”  

Written by Dinesh Bijalwan, “Teelu Rauteli” presented by Pragya Arts at Shri Ram Centre this past week centres around a young and innocent woman who rose to become a powerful fighter, vanquishing neighbouring rulers who killed her father and two brothers and enslaved her people. She achieved great heroic heights during 17th Century Garhwal when entry of women into war was an anathema to a society dominated by male rulers. Today, her saga of revolt against injustice and feudal male supremacy of warlords is perpetuated in the collective consciousness of the hill masses through folk art forms in glowing terms. Full of tension and pathos, the production makes viewing engrossing.

The play is directed by Laxmi Rawat, seasoned actress and director, who has produced some memorable productions in the past, both in Hindi and Garhwali. She has imparted life, vitality and Garhwali folk flavour into her production. Her use of folk songs from Uttarakhand is imaginative which not only deepens the mood of a given sequence but also produces emotional impact through contrast of musical tunes. Though the dominant mood of the production is that of heroism, there are brief sequences of romance expressed through tender and sweet folk music melody. These sequences are between Teelu Rauteli and her Prince Charming with whom she is betrothed and died on the war front before their marriage could be solemnised, shattering her dream to live a happy life. The music composed by Jagdish Mali and rendered by popular folk singers of Uttarakhand was recorded. If the director has been able to use live music, the value of the production would have been enhanced manifold .

The play opens with an exuberant mood with Teelu, with her friends in high spirits, singing and dancing to celebrate Teelu’s engagement with a young prince of a neighbouring state. But everything undergoes a change. Teelu’s father and brothers are killed in a war with the enemy country. A great responsibility is thrust on her to defend her people from slavery and avenge the death of her father and brothers. Her mother challenges her that if she is the true daughter of a Rajput warrior, she should take to swords and lead the army against the enemy country and honour the memory of her deceased father and brothers. Teelu, along with her girlfriends, inspire her people to unite to inflict crushing defeat on the enemy and free the country.

The defensive war leads to a series of bloody confrontations which continues for years, culminating in the victory of Teelu and her forces. As the war ends, Teelu has lost her female comrades and many powerful fighters. The surviving forces are tired of war and sanctioned leave to rest and visit their families. Teelu also decides to go home and takes a bath in the nearby river alone and to breathe in the tranquillity of nature. But her arch-enemy, who is severely wounded and his pride bruised, surreptitiously follows her, determined to attack her when she starts bathing without any escort.

Difficult to grasp

However, the script needs pruning, especially the opening scenes. The Rupaee (Hurkiya Baul) scene depicting the planting of paddy collectively by the community, with songs rendered by Hurkiya, the chief singer, to the accompaniment of beats of Hurka hardly adds to enrich the central idea of the play. Though historians differ in their assessment of the period in which Teelu lived and fought, the playwright has given historic references such as Katyuri dynasty and to rulers of Almora which make the narrative difficult to grasp by those who are not familiar with the chequered history of Uttarakhand. The emphasis should have been on the enriching of the character of Teelu as the protagonist who challenged arrogant male warriors. Arguably, she is the first woman in the history of Uttarakhand, who forced the male Rajput warriors to bite the dust.

The set is designed in an insightful way with different platforms at different heights which are connected with the main acting space with make-shift stairs. This device makes scenes enacted at different spaces clearly visible with dialogues audible. The highlight of Laxmi's production is the way war scenes are devised and executed, exuding fierce encounter with wooden rods, symbolising swords displaying martial art at its fiercest. The way girls challenge their adversary soldiers thrilled the audience who watch these war scenes with bated breath.

In the denouement, we watch bodies of two arch-rivals, who hated each other intensely, with nobody to weep for them. In the background, there is ceaseless murmur of the flowing river water. On the deeper level, the production suggests subtly the futility of war.

The entire cast acts admirably. A talented actress, Pragya Singh Rawat as Teelu Rauteli gives a brilliant performance, leaving a deep impact on the audience with her intense histrionic artistry. Kusum Chauhan as the bold mother of Teelu Rauteli, Sonali Mishra and Roopali Rawat, as comrade-in-arms fighting with valour, give convincing performances. Vansh Sethi as Ramu Rajwar, who is humiliated and severely wounded by Teelu, internalises his anguish and deep-rooted sense of revenge creates a powerful portrait of his character.

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Printable version | Jun 17, 2021 1:16:38 AM |

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