A girl Luwangbi and her friends play with the dolls ‘Thoinu’ and ‘Luwangba’. These dolls are just a metaphor as director Oasis Sougaijam, one of the final year students of National School of Drama, in his play Basket of Dolls, highlights the culture, politics and violence against women in theNortheastern region. Dealing with the historical battle between Manipur and Myanmar (formerly known as Burma), the play is about a conspiracy hatched between the Myanmar Army and the prince Koirengba forcibly wants to marry Thoinu and Luwangba, Thoinu’s husband and the protagonist of the play, dies heroically and honourably in the battle.
Even their infant son is buried alive following the orthodox tradition of sacrificing a child to control the flood in the state.This short tale was gripping from the beginning till end. From Luwangbi’s entry along with her dolls, to her facing harassment from Koirengba, the sword fight between Manipur and Myanmar soldiers and death of Luwangba, the play was crisp in terms of content.
What added to its depth and dimension was the live Northeastern music by a band which successfully created an auditory illusion before the play commenced and made the audience totally immerse themselves into the narrative right till the end.
In order to create an impact through the characters, the director intelligently used four actors to play the lead roles with each one occupying all corners of the stage. By repeating the dialogues in chorus, the contours of the play successfully expanded from the stage and reached the mind and the heart of the audiences. The scenes were beautifully and sensitively executed, especially the heart wrenching rape scenes, where Thoinu is trapped in a cage and there are men all around her, tearing clothes from her body. Everyone of the actors asserted themselves on her by playing with pieces of her clothing. Even the sword fight between Koirengba and Luwangba had a real feel, as the actors brilliantly engaged in a sword fight on stage.
Metaphorically, dolls represent characters and the basket represents the society. The original text has been edited heavily and made concise. It has been put together in a symbolic and stylised form with the help of music and choreography, sustaining the essence of the original text.
Urban angst in focus
Dressed in coats made from newspaper, a group of actors appear on the stage. They take off this unique piece of clothing and stand in their white shirt and knee-length pants which have a small part of some electronic gadget stitched to it. They look awkward as they began to run hither and thither on stage as soon as they see a woman acting coquettishly. She throws a piece of biscuit and these robotic men, working on laptops, run towards that piece like hungry dogs.
These are no aliens, but are a mirror image of us presented in a satirical way and representing the impact of Americanisation on Indians and their mind.
As part of the play Civilisation on Trial, conceptualised and directed by Sweety Ruhel, an NSD graduate, these men are people working in a multinational companies ready to do anything for their sustenance. It is the story of both urban and rural Indians, who are entrapped by the might of the superpower.
Ruhel, has metaphorically, through these robotic men, tried to look into the psyche
of people and their different perspectives on different situations.
This definitely adds to the fun element to the narrative, especially when Kallu chaiwallah performs the aarti of the ‘America baba’, believing that his days will change if America baba meets him.
Interestingly, the director has presented America as a live character who speaks like a typical Mumbaiya-style gangster. His expressions are typical to that of a greedy man, who wants to know the recipe of Kallu’s chai that is popular in the town.
Once America baba gets the recipe, no one asks for Kallu chaiwallah. The play, indirectly, highlights the fluctuating scenario of Indian economy where the Indian rupee is falling day by day, the failing financial situation and agricultural crises prove the extent of unawareness, but it shows how we are in high spirits and dream abundantly.
However, the play somewhere takes an arbitrary turn when a self-styled godman is introduced in a scene and he molests a woman.