This Tuesday evening, the audience at Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan auditorium was taken back a few decades to a midsummer’s eve in Sweden where a young woman, the daughter of a count, no less, flirts blatantly with a male servant. The night that began with revelry, escalates to a battle of control between the servant and the daughter of the master and finally ends in tragedy.
The play, Miss Julie, written in the late Nineteenth century by Swedish playwright August Strindberg was staged in the city as part of the Qadir Ali Baig Theatre Festival. Directed by Sohaila Kapur, the play has been staged in many theatre festivals across the county including The Hindu Metro Plus Theatre Festival and the National School of Drama, Delhi.
While there have been several adaptations of the popular play, including five film adaptations, Sohaila Kapur chose to stick to the original script because she believes that the play addresses issues of class, and more pertinently, gender that remain relevant in India today. “I’ve only translated the play to English but have not adapted it to suit the Indian audiences because I feel Nineteenth century Sweden has a lot in common with Twenty first century India, in terms of the issues women have to deal with,” she said during a conversation with us few hours before the show.
“Moreover, I don’t like changing classics, unless I am doing a parody.”
The play depicts how an initially strong woman breaks down under pressure, while her accomplice, a man shows no remorse but rather stoically instigates her to commit suicide to escape the situation. This of course has gotten mixed reviews from the audiences.
“While some people enjoy the play as a classic and find the message within the structure, I have often been asked why I didn’t change the end to make her stronger,” explains Sohaila.
“But we have to understand that would represent a miniscule population of women in the country because very often the man has the upper hand. In fact in the play, while Miss Julie is the daughter of the master of the house and Jean is her father’s servant, in the end, the difference in gender trumps the class difference and the man still has the upper hand.”