Struggle for acceptance

PITCHING FOR EQUALITY A scene from “Drama Queen”

PITCHING FOR EQUALITY A scene from “Drama Queen”   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

“Drama Queen” unravelled the plight of women in Parsi theatre

Presented by Blue Feather Theatre at LTG auditorium, “Drama Queen” sought to capture the stark reality about the life of female artists and their struggle to be accepted as actresses performing on the stage in full view of the audience in the 19th Century India in which Parsi community was evolving a kind of Hindustani theatre whose bane was melodrama mostly dealing with the themes of mythology, women and family.

No to gender bias

The rich and pleasure seeking people were mainly used to form the bulk of audience. Though women were very much part of the production, they were not allowed to perform on the stage. An Anglo-Indian young lady Mary Fenton finally picked up the courage to revolt against this insulting gender bias. She finally grew into a famous performer and darling of the audience. The production merely depicts her young life in an incoherent way.

The play is written, designed and directed by Neeyati Rathode, who graduated from National School of Drama in 2014 and worked for the NSD Repertory Company. Within a short span of time in her creative career, she has produced several significant plays. In her latest venture, she focuses our attention on to the vital legacy of the Parsi theatre which is now gradually being forgotten. The late Prof. B.M. Shah, former director of NSD, had richly contributed to reinvent this theatre tradition to be in tune with modern stage craft. Prof. Hema Singh of NSD is now known for her expertise in the Parsi theatre had the opportunity to act in the lead role in a play in Parsi style directed by Prof. Shah for NSD Repertory Company.

In the production under review, Neeyati highlights the sacrifices made by female performers of the Parsi theatre who were unjustly treated by a conservative society and the miserable condition of male artists who impersonated female roles in their early youth and discarded when they grew old.

The play opens in Mussoorie with farmers planting paddy in field inspired by a folk singer. Suddenly we hear strident voices that the house of the young lady has been sold. With no roof over her head, the young lady, who is in fact Mary Fenton , an Anglo-Indian, leaves Mussorrie in a huff, declaring that she will undertake a long journey to discover meaning in her life.

Then the young lady encounters men on a road of Delhi, eager to have some glimpses of pump and pageantry of the Delhi Durbar. Suddenly the young lady gets severely injured while she brushes violently with the young men who took her to their room which happens to be in Mumbai, the locale where the real drama unfolds.

Mary Fenton's journey from Mussoorie is simple straight forward and unconvincing, though it gives us the sense of the period of the action, referring to Delhi Durbar. The action should have started from the arrival of Mary in the office-cum-residence of the Parsi Theatre Company with its star singer Miss Begum Jaan. From this point, the script becomes tight and the way events unfold, the experience gets engaging and the element of suspense grows gradually.

Mary meets Miss Begum Jaan, gradually adjusts herself to the high living standard of Miss Begum, her stern discipline and her members of the troupe who obey her with the mixed feeling of awe and veneration. Mary is gradually initiated into rehearsals and stage performances. But suddenly with the constantly incurring losses, the owner of the company decides Miss Begum and other female performers should act on the stage in full view of the audience rather than singing off stage.

Considered sacrilegious, Miss Begum accepts the proposal of the owner to act on the stage. With elaborate preparations, Amanat’s “Inder Sabha” with Miss Begum in the lead role was staged with the view money will flow into the coffers of the company. Angered, the die-hard audience stoned women performers who ran for their lives. Miss Begum is nowhere to be seen. It is rumoured that she is kidnapped.

Winning hearts

In this atmosphere of utter gloom, Mary and Cawasji Palanji Khatau – a male performing female roles, come forward and stage “Sita Vanvas” with Mary as Sita. The show is a grand success with the hall echoing with tumultuous applause. From this point of time, Mary continues to rise to greater heights of popularity.

Manisha as Miss Begum Jaan wins the heart of the audience with her rendition of songs and her impressive stage presence.

Though her character is sketchily drawn, Mehrin Saba as Mary Fenton impresses the audience with her bold performance. Subhash Chandra as Cawasji Palanji Khatau, who collaborates with Mary to introduce women as performer, challenging the conservative reactionary views against women performers and Deepak Rana as humiliated and outcaste Lacchan playing female roles in his early youth act admirably.

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Printable version | Mar 29, 2020 10:02:21 AM |

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