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Living Without Memories

Wednesday, February 13, 2019
By Deepa Gahlot

The title of the Gujarati play Bhartiben Bhula Padya hints at what it is about—a woman losing her memory. Written by Vinod Sarvaiya, directed by Vipul Mehta and starring Gopi Desai in the lead role, the play is different from the family dramas that are so popular on the Gujarati stage.

There is the saas-bahu tension as in every home, but here it’s mostly affectionate. Bhartiben (Desai) is the superefficient matriarch of the household (the set of the old Ahmedabad house has some nice detailing), praised for her ability to remember every little thing, while her daughter-in-law Madhuri (Deepali Bhuta) is a ditzy woman obsessed with shopping.

Bhartiben’s memory loss starts with small glitches like her turning the wrong way to exit the house, but gets worse when she leaves behind her grandson Hitansh (Keval Gosalia), and forgets her own address. Then she starts forgetting people and regresses into the past, when her husband was alive and her children Nilay (Vinayak Ketkar) and Priti (Kinjal Bhatt) were younger. She does not recognize Madhuri or her son-in-law Pratham (Aniket Tank).

At first her deterioration is handled with humour—like her mistaking Pratham for the plumber--but then the family doctor (Kapil Bhuta) drops the dreaded Alzheimer’s word. Now the family has to cope with Bhartiben’s incurable ailment, and the burden falls on Madhuri.

If there is something that could be avoided is the insulting way (and this is common in Gujararti plays) in which Nilay talks to and about his wife, so that their son also routinely mocks his mother. Also, it is unfair that the difficult task of being sole caregiver to a dementia patient is expected, or demanded, of the stay-at-home wife.

The problems faced by the family of the patient suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease are portrayed with sensitivity, but there is really no happy ending here. Still, it is commendable that producers Kaustubh Trivedi and Sanjay Goradia chose to present a subject so off-mainstream in Gujarati theatre. Gopi Desai has stepped on the stage after a long time, and has given a powerful performance, with excellent support from her co-actors.

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