As a country, we always take one step forward and two steps back. Our pomposity on being a potential global power comes to naught when almost every week one reads about a woman&’s modesty being outraged. The health of a society invariably depends on the status of its women and, going by that barometer, we are in need of serious introspection. Calls for gender sensitization have become the norm and to that end any endeavour is not only welcome but also necessary. Pratibimb: Reflections of Women in Theatre, a three-day festival from 16-18 March, held at GD Birla Sabhaghar, proved to be a step in the right direction by highlighting how women have been perceived from the pages of history to the 21st century. Three productions — ambitious in scope but impeccable in execution — mirrored the social realities of women and at the same time enthralled the audience.
The first evening saw Shahana Chatterjee present No Ordinary Love, a play comprised of monologues. It cast an episodic look at the lives of three women from literature and history — Nati Binodini, Meerabai and Chitrangada. Each in their own right had defied patriarchal conventions of the day by following their hearts and carving out identities that only posterity acknowledged. Chatterjee essayed each character delectably, equally at ease in Bengali, Hindi and English. The tone of her performances reflected the personality of each character wonderfully and the live music accompaniment was adequate though it ate into her acting at times. The choice of songs could have been much better, especially in the Nati Binodini and Chitrangada segments.
The following evening, theatre doyen Usha Ganguly staged her Hindi play, Hum Mukhtara. Taking off from an incident in 2002 in which a village girl, Mukhtar Mai, from Pakistan was gang raped as a form of honour revenge, the play commented on the increasing instances of crimes against women on both sides of the border. With a sizeable cast, Hum Mukhtara depicted events leading up to and after that ill-fated June day. However, where it scored was not looking at the 2002 incident in isolation but rather making it the fulcrum to comment broadly on the issue of violence against women today.
Ganguly left an indelible impact both as a sutradhar and a hapless spectator of circumstances. The use of Western classical music and Punjabi folk songs lent a brilliant element to the production. Mrinmoyee Basu&’s portrayal of Mukhtar Mai was exceptional, with the right nuances. Hum Mukhtara was a reminder that a crime against one woman is by extension a crime against all.
Anita Ratnam concluded the festival with A Million Sitas. It might be a cliché but the best was definitely saved for the last. A dance-theatre production, Ratnam&’s play showcased a Sita different from the one portrayed in popular culture. Drawing from oral traditions of women, A Million Sitas brilliantly rendered King Janak&’s daughter as the central link between four other women — Mandodari, Ahalya, Manthara and Surpanakha. Great music comprising outstanding percussion from Krishna Kishore held the audience&’s attention for brief interludes in the action. As the sole actor on stage throughout, Ratnam&’s was the undisputed standout performance of the festival. Infusing elements of mime, conversation, storytelling and movements from her self-styled combination of contemporary dance and Bharatnatyam, christened “NeoBharatnatyam”, she stole the show. Though mostly in English, the play had sprinklings of Tamil as well. Where A Million Sitas proved to be a rousing success was in the way it put forth a radically alternate view of events, far removed from the master narrative of the Ramayana.
Overall, the lighting as well as the minimalist use of props and stage design in each production was in perfect coherence with its tone and tenor. Chatterjee as the brain behind Pratibimb deserves a special shout. The landscape of theatre in the city is richer because of the festival. Celebrating womanhood on a particular day and turning a blind eye for the remaining 364 is grossly insensitive. Pratibimb, in its own way, addressed this lacuna.