By KARISHMA HASNAT
The stage is set and the performers and crew are concentrating on their final rehearsals before the curtains go up at the Kala Ghoda Art Festival in Mumbai on February 9. A group of young Assamese artistes are ready to enthrall an invited audience at the MC Ghia hall with Disposable Theatre’s new venture, Disposable Womaen – a portrayal of three female characters from history and the folklore of Assam.
Produced by Kahini Foundation, a Mumbai-based NGO promoting the art and culture of Northeast India, the play is an initiative of the Kankhowa group of artistes and directed by Samudra Kajal Saikia, a theatre professional and the founder director of Kathputlee Arts and Films, New Delhi. The enchanting and adventurous stories of Chitralekha, Joymoti and Tejimola have been cobbled together and adapted into a multilingual play with appropriate subtexts in the narrative. And quite compelling is the name of the play, Disposable Womaen – Samudra says he chose the word ‘disposable’ as a means to provoke, question, or rather do away with the values that identify the stereotyped ideal woman. The word ‘Womaen’, on the other hand, was coined to suggest narrative plurality.
In Hindu mythology, Chitralekha was the trusted companion of Princess Usha, the beautiful daughter of the demon King Banasura who fell in love with Krishna’s grandson Aniruddha in her dreams, not knowing who he was. Chitralekha who was a master painter decided to help her friend, and she drew a portrait of Aniruddha from Usha’s description. King Bana, however, was not happy with this relationship. Chitralekha decided to help her friend find happiness, and using a special boon from Narada, she transformed herself into a bumble bee and spirited away Aniruddha from Dwaraka to King Bana’s palace in Sonitpur. The two lovers were secretly married off with the help of Chitralekha and her friends. But as the story progresses, Chitralekha is found to be curiously absent and we never get to know more of her – it is this subdued representation of the skillful woman in Chitralekha’s character that finds prominence in the narrative of Disposable Womaen.
The representation of Sati Joymoti as the self-sacrificing, loyal and morally upstanding wife of Ahom prince Gadapani has been adapted in the play as a strong woman who refuses to meet with the same fate as her historic counterpart. And the overwhelming tale of Tejimola passed down through the generations – from every Assamese parent to child has been dramatized to stress how one should live one’s waking life. In the traditional oral version, the open hostility towards Tejimola by her wicked stepmother transformed her into a fruit tree – the objectification of something divine and beautiful that was cut down and destroyed even as she pleaded truth. In the end, the girl turned into a blooming lotus and was restored to human form by her loving father, while the stepmother was punished and sent away. It is this symbolic representation of the suppressed voice of a tortured girl that finds meaning in Disposable Womaen.
The play promises to be a rainbow of hues on stage honouring three different women – the challenging characters of Chitralekha, Joymoti and Tejimola will be played by Mridupankhi Rajkumari, Pallavi Dutta and Papari Medhi respectively. Before the curtain call, the stage will welcome Bollywood singer Joi Barua rendering his popular song Tejimola from the album Joi –Looking out of the Window.
The set design for Disposable Womaen has been done by Shilpa Joglekar, a Mumbai-based artist who is recognized for her work on recycled structures using bamboo and other materials.
Juhi Babbar Soni, Curator, Kala Ghoda Arts Festival 2015, says, “I am eagerly looking forward to the staging of Disposable Womaen. Indeed, a unique amalgamation of arts.”
The production is confident to put up a good show and captivate audience attention through the artistic standards of music, art and drama. Roopa Barua, founder of Kahini Foundation says, “I have seen a lot of talent from the Northeast in all kinds of artistic disciplines. Everybody narrates a beautiful story in their own medium. My dream is to set up Kahini Foundation so that we can come together and create things of everlasting beauty and significance.”
Disposable Womaen seemingly looks like an avenue to stage the rights and position of a woman in society at various levels – an attempt to bring out something familiar in an innovative way.