The runaway girls tell their story: Bhagi hui ladkiyan

The play Bhagi hui ladkiyan explores the world view of four young girls from Hazrat Nizamuddin Basti in Delhi

April 20, 2023 05:15 pm | Updated 05:35 pm IST

A scene from Bhagi hui ladkiyan

A scene from Bhagi hui ladkiyan | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

When the four Bhagi hui ladkiyan (Runaway girls) come on stage to narrate ‘their’ experiences in a conversational manner, the audience is bound to empathise; nod in agreement, smile when the girls smile r and even clap in agreement. This is what Dhwani Vij, the Delhi-based director of the Hindi play Bhagi hui ladkiyan, has to say about the play. In this narration-styled play, which will be staged in Hyderabad for the first time by Popsicle Production, the actors from Nizamuddin basti in Delhi will speak of what it is like for girls from a low-income background to live in an urban society.

Dhwani elaborates, “The play explores the actors’ gendered bodies and their relationship with the self, others and public spaces — the play uses objects, physical theatre, and cartography to devise a thought-provoking experience. These stories begin on a random day. These are first-hand retellings of a day in Nizamuddin basti. The spectator is invited to enter the performer’s world through the everydayness of the narrative.”

The stories turn into tales of how gender and sexuality play out in the lives of four actors. Conversations about family, trust, consent, personal space and gender dynamics begin to surface. Questions about their identity and how they are perceived within the boundaries of their home and their community come forth through their words and actions.

Bhagi hui ladkiyan was first commissioned as a part of Gender Bender 2016, supported by Goethe Institut Bangalore and Sandbox Collective. “I collaborated with Aagaaz Theatre Trust to develop a 15-minute piece, which was presented at the festival as a work-in-progress piece. The original piece was devised with two actors — Nagina and Jasmine. Later, with the support of the Refunction Grant by Goethe Institut Delhi, it became an hour-long show with four actors (Naghma and Zainab joined the team). This year, we plan to re-work this play to reflect the narratives post-pandemic, and in the socio-cultural milieu of the actors and their world,” she said.  

She adds, “The differences between ‘who I am’ and ‘how people see me’ guide the explorations that the performers embark on. The audience is invited to experience the happenings through a gender-sensitive lens.”  

How the play unfolds 

The audience encounters a shrine-like structure made of everyday objects in the centre of the stage. A song is heard and four burqa-clad figures emerge from the audience and enter the stage space. They take off their burqas even as they continue singing. Four young girls in their school uniforms lay down the burqas and lie down on them to sleep. Advertisement commercials fade in and, eventually, the girls wake up to their everyday routine of morning chores. They seem to be getting ready for school. As they leave their homes, the commercials fade out. 

Each actor narrates her story to the audience, while the other three create representations of the storyteller’s dilemmas, using the objects in space. The shapes in which the objects are restructured have a dramaturgical relationship with what is being said. They symbolise the essence of each narrative, and the tenor with which they are placed highlights the dramatic tension between the speaker and the context. 

Bhagi Hui Ladkiyan will be staged on April 23, 5pm and 8pm at Rangbhoomi Spaces. Open to all aged 14 years and above. Bookings on

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