Friday Review

Entering new spaces

They wear different names, but keep their spirits indomitable.  

The story grows. When it travels from one person to the other, the story grows. It grows when it moves from one space to the other. On Vaidehi’s literary canvas, the characters of Ammachi and Akku are part of two different narratives, but in Champa Shetty’s performance text they co-exist. Vaidehi’s preoccupation -- one of the most unusual voices among women writers in Kannada -- is to present the perspective of a woman as it affected her, from the politics of everyday life. The stories mostly capture the woman’s real world, her real experiences, and the various aspects of self-fashioning, without taking overt, ideological stances. If for Champa Shetty, Akku’s madness and Ammachi’s brazenness (who becomes Puttamatte’s Mommagalu in the play) are a part of the same project of self preservation, it is indeed part of Vaidehi’s vision. Hence, for director and script writer Champa Shetty who brings the stories of Akku, Ammachi, and Puttamatte into her play Akku, it is but the story of the same woman who is transplanted into different contexts – she employs different tools for survival.

Rangamantapa’s recent production of Akku was a powerful revisit to the world of Vaidehi. Subtly nuanced and wrought with multiple ambiguities, Champa Shetty infused her theatrical space with world of the writer in all its forceful experiences. The geographical space, language and the backyard from Vaidehi’s universe acquire a powerful representation in the play, and for the audience who have read her stories, the play manifests itself like a visual reading.

Vaidehi’s women in both these stories aspire to fly above their circumstances which, in the most heartless and cruel ways, tries to pin them down. The outer world with its imposing voice and the inner realm shut into a silence is the backdrop of most Vaidehi’s stories and is a palpable presence in the play. The tension in negotiating these two distinct worlds, often perceived as infringement and protest by the patriarchal order, makes for the plot. Vaidehi’s women are almost always a product of their situation, hence their negotiations are unstated. Champa Shetty never loses sight of the writer’s vision and handles the play with sensitivity, and not even once does she overstate the writer. The performance text, like the source text, steers clear of jingoistic feminist stances, and quietly keeps directing you to women who have been co-opted into the patriarchy project and can be as brutal as their male counterparts.

Akku, a zany middle-aged woman, takes on the world in her state of madness. Her good-for-nothing husband suddenly disappears, and Akku goes around imagining she’s pregnant. Vaidehi’s Akku, gives voice to her simmering rage and anxiety through her dark double; in her not being normal, she appears as a strong case of insurrection. Akku, in her madness, lives life entirely on her own terms which is only a man’s prerogative – she trespasses the boundaries of the inner world, and can neither be tamed by her father Ajjayya’s iron fist or her brother Vasu’s violent physical attacks. Her sister-in-law is constantly inflicting wounds on her, but Akku’s spirit is indomitable. She literally browbeats her husband who makes a sudden comeback and reclaims her body: Akku chooses to live with her ‘imagined pregnancy’ rather than a husband who sees her as a mere object of lust. Yashaswini plays Akku with aplomb, and keeps blurring lines of truth for the audience – is Akku really insane?

Resistance in Vaidehi’s stories is at once subtle and powerful. It attacks the basic construct of a traditional society, but is also constantly aware that modernity is not complete in itself. The story of Ammachi and her helpless widowed mother (in the play grandmother Puttmatte) is of two women who deal with their circumstances differently. The defiant Ammachi is aware of her sexuality, she loves to look beautiful, she wants to choose her man – she dreams the impossible. Clearly, a product of “second wave” of feminism, Vaidehi intersperses the smell of jasmines, tinkling anklets with the dark kitchens. She makes her women move into thresholds marked “strictly for men”. Ammachi plays her role so well, that it is heart wrenching when she is married of to the vile, old Venkappayya.

Some of Vaidehi’s poems are set to music (Kashinath Pattar) for the play; while the poems in themselves carry a lot of meaning, set to a background score they become heavy for the play. In fact, the poignant silences of the play are eaten up by the music which tends to border on melodrama. Each of the actors in the team has played his role exceptionally well, and they articulate the language of the writer rather brilliantly.

The final scene which freezes on the three women is a moment that will linger for long – they are conscience keepers of their society, and they will keep re-emerging with greater strength after each attack.

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Printable version | Dec 1, 2020 9:44:05 PM |

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