Stories from the margins

A scene from ““Bheege Bheege Se Pal”.  

Lokesh Jain is a poet, playwright and theatre activist who has been engaged for nearly three decades in search of a theatre that depicts the miseries of people marginalised by a market-driven society based on the capitalist mode of production.

He writes his own scripts based on his observation of the lives of footpath-dwellers and people uprooted from their environments. He does not merely present the surface reality but also tries to interpret the social and economic forces that condemn people to survive in miserable conditions. Poetry is a significant element in his productions. As an actor his solo performance of “Akkarmashi” depicting the insulted and humiliated life of a Dalit was considered an important piece of theatrical art. Founder member of Jamghat, which features street children as actors, and Mandala, his artistic credo could be described as the voice for the voiceless. He is not interested in mythological and historical themes; his basic concern is the portrayal of the antagonism inherent in the class society of India. The contradictions he reveals remain unresolved. Often he takes his productions to the inmates of night shelters to offer them some moments of joy. In his latest venture “Bheege Bheege Se Pal…”, presented this past week, is a devastating indictment of a morbid and rabidly sex maniac male psyche that robs women of their liberty, dignity and right to happiness.

Jointly presented by Jamghat and Mandala (The Magic Circle), “Bheege Bheege Se Pal” depicts the tormented lives of women condemned to live in the shadow of constant threat. Every woman has a different story to tell, confronting a common enemy in men who are maniacs. But these women have the rare tenacity to resist these dark forces and to survive with dignity. There is Jasveer Kaur, an old woman fighting in a court of law against her rapacious husband who wants to deprive her of the house which belongs to her. To make a living she has transformed it into a guesthouse for working women who mostly meet after office hours. The character of Jasveer brings structural harmony to the script. Gradually the diverse world of these traumatised women hailing from different socio-economic backgrounds is revealed. At one end of the social spectrum we have the woman who owns the guesthouse, and at another we meet her domestic help Bahula.

Though both are victims of a male dominated society, the nature of physical and emotional violence perpetrated on the domestic help are much more severe. Her perpetrators have ruined her forever but she gathers enough strength to survive and makes ends meet with a sense of independence as the domestic helper to the old woman. Bahula was the victim of a rape. When her parents discovered she was pregnant, they married her off. It did not take her in-laws long to know about her pregnancy and she was thrown out of the house. After going through the searing pain of abortion, she was reduced to a commodity and sold to different men. However, she managed to liberate herself.

One of the inmates of the guesthouse is a middle aged woman with a school-going daughter. She was married to a man who after some time became an ascetic to seek the “salvation of humanity which is spiritually crippled”. A male at her office ogles her lasciviously and one day he makes an abortive attempt to rape her. One day a young working woman disappears, never to return either to the guest house or to her parents living in a different city. Listening to all these horror tales, a young girl who has come to the city displays determination to stay and continue her dance classes.

Aakriti is a working journalist and after a live-in relationship with a fellow journalist for six months, she finds in her partner an incompetent journalist and a timid man and considers it prudent to leave him, but her experience with another man is not a happy one either, which finally leads to a break-up. The stories are revealed at the guesthouse; the dramatic action takes place on the streets and at an office.

The director evokes an atmosphere of fear by setting his play against the backdrop of the heinous December 16 gangrape. The objects on the stage, like a tangled web formed by threads, a dustbin and the weird image of a girl who is a mere shadow of a living person serve as metaphors for a criminalised society. The used of telephone calls is effective enough to enhance the sense of suspense and anxiety.

However, the marriage scene appears to be longish, boisterous and loud which tends to be incongruous with the dominant tone of the production. It also tends to be disjointed. If the director wants to make it meaningful and an integral part of the basic structure, it could be made part of the life of any character to be depicted through the device of flashback. There is also the need to make the use of poems more subtle and intricate.

The members of the cast act with conviction, making their portrayals credible. Renu Anuj Singh as Jasveer Kaur, the bold and sympathetic guesthouse owner, Saumya Mani Tripathi as the domestic help, Gazal Shehrawat as Aakriti, the working journalist, and Chavi Jain as the deserted woman impress the audience with their fine performances. Pakhi Jain as Koyal the little daughter of the deserted woman and Riju Bala Jain as the dance student make their scenes charming, symbolising that life is after all not all gloomy and hopeless, but has bright and optimistic shades too.

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Printable version | Jan 26, 2022 1:58:44 PM |

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