Tale of women, lives rent by Partition

DRAMATIC Adaptation

In a play with nine female characters, it tends to become obvious that the subject will be centered around a women’s issue. And so it turns out to be when Metrolife reviews Sohaila Kapur’s new direction - Bebe ka Chamba.

Kapur’s prowess at adapting a foreign script is not unknown to those who have witnessed her version of August Strindberg’s Miss Julie. The director goes a step further this time, and changes the context of the Spanish play The House of Bernarda Alba by Federico García Lorca to suit a newly-partitioned Punjab of 1948.           

A female servant enters the stage sweeping the floor as unpleasant noises are heard in the backdrop. The news of the death of the only patriarch justifies the mourning in the house of a grandmother, mother and four daughters.

It is an interesting move by the director to let the main characters enter the narrative later. This also proves that there is equal importance given to all the characters including the servants of the house - Ramrati (Lotty Alaric) and Munni (Shibani Bedi). This is not the same in the original work, yet the director decides to give a personality to these women considering they are Punjabi and cannot be placed in the backdrop.

A north Indian is sure to enjoy the dialogue delivery of the actors who speak Hindustani in a near-perfect manner. But their frequent fumbling acts as a foil to the audio-visual experience. Nevertheless, the enactment of the character of Bebe (Nirupama Verma) and Chaiji (Madan Bala Sindhu) is appreciable.

While the former portrays a perfect tyrant, the latter, though older in age, is considered as mentally unfit. Interestingly, the prophesy of Chaiji - “Shyam Sundar sabko gajar mooli ki tarah kaat dega”, is a significant one.

Even the rest of the cast fits perfectly in the plot – Bimla (Arti Sharda Nayar) displays the angst of an unmarried girl in 40s, Santosh (Anuradha Vyas), Leelavati (Meenakshi
Thapa) is an introvert but shows real guts in the end by exiting the stage unannounced and Gauri (Amita Rana) who gets stuck in the gyre of falling in love yet not making the most of the moment to run away.

The director not just weaves the play in the Indian context but also alters western motifs with Indian ones. The dead lamb in Chaiji's lap (referring to her dead sons due to
violence during Partition), homosexuality (by Leelavati's mention of hatred towards men), breaking of Bebe’s chadi and phulkari dupatta (carried by Bimla throughout the play) used to cover Gauri’s body in the end; are all reminiscent of a woman’s curbed freedom and
its aftermath.             

What lightens the play is the addition of live music and Punjabi songs making the dark issues palatable for the contemporary audience. Also, certain scene such as the one where all women feel the heat (when men sing in farms) is symbolic of the female’s desire to experience sexual satisfaction like men. Unable to do so, the claustrophobia affects the household and the characters meet their own fate.

For those women who have seen the consequences of Partition, this play will revive their traumatic experience and raise new questions.

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