Theatre

Ila: a modern fairy tale

A still from the play. Photo: S.R. Raghunathan  

Ila is poetry

I sat down to face brightly lit Chinese lanterns on stage at the Museum Theatre; it was a tranquil sight. Looking at my ticket, I realised that the play was in Hindi. I have never watched a play in this language before, and I must say I was a tad apprehensive and a whole lot curious. As the lights grew thin, a wondrous tune marked the beginning of the first full-length production from The Patchworks Ensemble directed by Puja Sarup and Sheena Khalid, based on The Pregnant King, a captivating story by Devdutt Pattanaik.

For the next 75 minutes, I was transfixed. The play prodded and tickled my brain cells into an overdrive of activity — I wanted my eyes to be everywhere — seven quirky characters, orchestrated movements, a physicality that was intelligent, the subjects on stage who shifted effortlessly between local Mumbai suburban life and an enchanted folklore that just seemed to fit hand-in-glove.

What initially begins as a light comedy that showcases everyday existence slowly builds and moves sinuously across the stage into a deeper, boundless look at gender with a certain raw emotion that makes you want to question the elephant in the room, what we almost always overlook. The play doesn’t centre on any particular aspect of the gender problem, but it takes you through the journey of a character that is built in front of your eyes — a king and a mother, a man and woman, a wife and a father, a brother and a daughter. At different points of the play, each performer steals the show with their rendition. The play has a seemingly familiar narrative; much like our inner-voice that often tries to confront the grey areas between the two genders and the accompanying dilemmas. With an interesting play of light that makes the whole story seem surreal and fine performances by the actors, Ila showcases the vision that it was.

Smrithi Amarendran

Ayanavaram

***

Unconventional fun

How do you take a clunky and unwieldy fairy tale with seemingly limited promise and convert it into a fast-paced interesting play that keeps you engaged for the entire duration?

The directors and cast, who played a big part in bringing the play into its current form, deserve a pat on the back for telling the story in an unconventional, almost crazy way, while keeping you interested throughout.

The story alternates between conversations in a Mumbai suburban train and the story of a king, who had to cope with a twisted curse — he would wax and wane in sync with the moon, through the continuum between a male and female personality.

While the central theme is that there is a male and female side to everyone, the play never sermonises and constantly looks for opportunities to surprise the audience and make them laugh.

The dances and scene transitions were dramatic. They made up for the absence of sets of any kind, while the humour was spot on and the actors were remarkably unselfconscious.

Those who got to watch Ila got a taste of some unorthodox theatre.

Rajesh Venkat

***

What defines you

What defines a man? What defines a woman? Is it their physical appearance? Their reproductive organs? Is it tradition that determines the way one should walk, talk, think and react or does nature equip each gender differently? And how much of one gender is implicit in the other? These and other related questions were raised and sought to be answered in the wonderful performance by The Patchworks Ensemble that took to the stage last evening at Museum Theatre. Taking inspiration from Devdutt Pattanaik’s story of the pregnant king, the group of talented performers turned the whole notion of gender on its head in what were a riveting 70 minutes; which saw the audience applauding as the barbs hit home again and again. The crowded ladies compartment of a Mumbai suburban train provides a group of commuters and a vendor companionship and release from the stresses of daily life as they exchange personal stories. A bare stage with just a stool at either end was all the prop required. Nothing more was required. Brilliant direction and a bunch of enthusiastic actors provided much food for thought about gender identity and all that goes with it. It was truly an evening well spent.

Sarla Balagopal

Nungambakkam

***

Best Review

Tick all the right boxes

Male. Female. Tick a box.

But what if there were more than two boxes? More male; more female; in between... What then of stereotypes? Such as ‘Men slap their thighs, women cross theirs’.

Ila dares to examine this gender- and mind-bending question.

Through an apt metaphor: the ladies’ compartment of a Mumbai local train, which turns ‘general’ by night — like its protagonist.

Ila draws from the myth of a king who, under a spell, goes between manhood and womanhood with the moon’s waxing and waning.

It continues pushing the envelope: several actors take turns playing the wo/man and, in literally a flicker, swing between Ila’s tragic/magic tale and that of a pregnant train regular.

The music yin-yangs too: now actor-like — posing a conundrum, now audience-like — pondering that conundrum.

By the end, everyone’s mind is prised open, at least a bit. Ila ticks all the right boxes.

Irfan Syed

Anna Nagar (West)

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Printable version | Apr 22, 2021 8:17:23 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/theatre/ila-challenges-gender-notions/article7561429.ece

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