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Women's Stories On Stage

Wednesday, March 13, 2019
By Deepa Gahlot

A panel discussion on ‘Women And Theatre in the City’ was organized by Avid Learning, to mark Women’s Day, and one of the speakers, Shernaz Patel, made a very interesting point, that this is the best time for women in theatre. Travelling over many an obstacle-ridden path, from the time women were not allowed to perform on stage (and men played female parts), today women are in every sphere of theatre, on stage and behind the scenes.

She also said that the is no discrimination in theatre, everyone gets paid the same amount and more importantly, there is no ageism; while movies she get offered grandmother parts, on stage she has played an enviable variety of roles.

Senior theatre (and film) director, Vijaya Mehta, started her career as an actress and, and says she lived through and age, when women had come out of the home and started achieving milestones in every field, but also that in her time, she did sensitive plays about women, but written by men—all but one, Jaswandi written by Sai Paranjpye.

She singled out Jaywant Dalvi’s play Purush (the first production starred Nana Patekar and Reema Lagoo) which, way back in the seventies, dealt with rape from a women’s point of view. A schoolteacher, Ambika, is raped by Gulabrao, a political worker, and when she does not get justice either from society of from the court that exonerates him, she castrates the man; the curtain comes down on Ambika waiting for the police to arrive, having called them herself. (The play has such a deep impact on audiences, and over the years, several productions in many languages and a film has been made on it).

Delhi-based theatre maker, Amal Allana, former Chairperson of the National School of Drama, and daughter of the legendary Ebrahim Alkazi, said that she never considered herself a woman director, just a director, though it so happened that many plays she directed, the Aadhe Adhure, The House of Bernard Alba, Erendira, Nati Binodini, had women at the centre, while Begum Barve about a male actor who played female parts, explored the nature of gender; interestingly, in Himmat Mai, her production of Bertolt Brecht’s Mother Courage And Her Children, she cast Manohar Singh in the lead role, but did not make him, impersonate a woman. It lent a different, gender neutral dimension to the iconic character.

Ishitta Arun, who has just turned producer, chose to do a play, Gaa Re Maa, about two women and she spoke of why she took this decision. All her life, she had watched her mother, Ila Arun, write or direct plays about strong women and she was inspired on them.

No matter, what the difficulties women face in other areas of showbusiness, at least theatre is refreshingly free of sexism.

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