Theatre

Woman of substance

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Mohammad Ali Baig’s “Kasturba” brings alive the strong character and independent mindset of the woman who kept pace with her illustrious husband

In the wake of Mahatma Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary celebrations, we have been able to watch several productions on Gandhi and his times. Recently, we have seen one more play titled “Kasturba” that was presented by Qadir Ali Baig Theatre Foundation, Hyderabad, at India Habitat Centre. It explores in depth the interaction between Kasturba, Gandhi, Mahadev Desai and Doctor Sushila Nayar, while in captivity in Aga Khan Palace, Pune. Remarkable for its realism and seamless flow of dramatic action, the finely tuned production is a significant contribution to Hindi plays on Gandhi.

Written by R. K Paliwal, the play is directed by multifaceted artist Mohammad Ali Baig whose productions have been critically acclaimed in India as well as abroad. The play under review with its focused narrative becomes an intimate study of Kasturba and her relationship with Gandhi. The dramatic action centred on one space – the interior part of Aga Khan Palace against the backdrop of Quit India Movement of 1942. As the title suggests, the action moves around Kasturba. Through the interactions with other dramatist personae, Kasturba emerges as the woman of great substance, compassion, inner strength, not afraid to speak her mind.

Baig’s artistic ingenuity lies in his realistic style of presentation, precision in design and exquisitely expressive off stage music which enables his performers to internalise the conflict of their characters. In “Kasturba”, in the down stage a bed is placed. The properties are sparse and elegantly placed. There is nothing superfluous.

The play opens with Gandhi dictating a letter to his secretary Mahadev Desai. To their surprise, they see Kasturba Gandhi accompanied by Dr Sushila Nayar and Manu Ben who reveal that they are prisoners. The jail official assures the new prisoners, Kasturba and the two young ladies of making necessary arrangements for their stay.

Severe blow

Undeterred, Gandhi continues to do his routine work like morning walk. One day while talking to Kasturba, Mahadev Desai falls down on the floor and he is declared dead. It’s a severe blow to Kasturba who has had great affection for him. Confined to the palace as a prisoner, Kasturba’s health continues to deteriorate. While in critical state, she expresses her wish that her last rites be performed near the samadhi of Mahadev Desai whom she treated as her own son. In one of the sequence, Dr Sushila Nayar recommends that Kasturba should be given penicillin injection.

In professor Sharma’s production of “Pehla Satyagrahi”, produced by the repertory of National School of Drama, Gandhi vehemently objects to the injection of penicillin. In the production under review, Gandhi initially objects to Susheela’s course of treatment with penicillin but leaves it to the wishes of Kasturba. When asked, Kasturba refuses to be injected.

As the inmates of prison, Kasturba and Gandhi occasionally engaged in polemics; Gandhi tends to be persuasive. The dialogues between Dr Sushila and Kasturba are marked by laconic wit which enlivens the gloomy atmosphere of the prison. As a mother, Kasturba is deeply disturbed and worried about her son Harilal who has indulged in open defiance of his father and started to lead a lifestyle which is anathema to Gandhi’s moral universe. The members of the cast follow the restraint style of acting, imparting a touch of sobriety to their portrayals. Rashmi Seth as Kasturba paints a subtle portrait that leaves a deep emotional impact . Vijay Prasad’s Gandhi appears to be mellow and mostly in reflective mood. He remains throughout near the site of cremation where Kasturba’s mortal remains are created near the samadhi of Mahadev Desai.

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Printable version | Dec 11, 2019 8:48:38 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/theatre/woman-of-substance/article29973411.ece

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