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Women who broke bonds

Nora, Julie and Chitra seamlessly combined to emerge as the New Woman in ``Cupid's Broken Arrow" presented by Angika. KAUSALYA SANTHANAM traces the chain.



"Cupid's Broken Arrow" ... dance enhances drama. — Pic. by N. Sridharan.

THEY NEEDED only 90 minutes to effectively salute three countries, pay homage to three great writers and trace woman's transition from bondage to liberation. The newly formed Angika theatre group from Bangalore staged ``Cupid's Broken Arrow" on March 17, at the Mandala theatre in Besant Nagar. The play was presented by Angika in association with SPACES and Chandralekha's Cultural Centre.

It was directed by Prasanna, leading figure in the field of theatre in Karnataka. The script was written by Zac O' Yeah, Swedish writer based in India. Prasanna founded the Samudaya group in the Seventies which soon became a byword for committed theatre. Focussing on content, the leftist group, through State wide events, helped create political awareness and involve the lower classes and castes in theatre activity.

"Cupid's Broken Arrow" was premiered at Abhimanch, National School of Drama, in New Delhi last month. It was presented by the embassies of Norway and Sweden along with the NSD as part of the centennial celebration of the independence of Norway (from Sweden).

Scenes from Henrik Ibsen's ``A Doll's House," August Strindberg's ``Miss Julie" and Rabindranath Tagore's ``Chitrangada" are laced together in the play to show the construction of a new woman. ``They have all depicted the new woman in very many hues, in their literary works," says the director. All the writers lived during a period of transition when the old order was giving way to new. And when women began seeking their rightful place under the sun. Since this shook up the established order, there was trauma and loss and pain both within home and in society as the Noras and the Julies emerged from their restrictive and hard chrysalis. These writers looked at the human cost of social construction ``with ruthless honesty and a great deal of sensitivity," says Prasanna.

The director too brought sensitivity to his narration and empathy to the cause of women. Aided by a fine script, he neatly dovetailed the stories through directorial touches and the help of the gods — Vasantha( God of Youth) and Madana (God of Love) — dressed in magnificent Yakshagana costume. This was a device that helped weld the plays smoothly, comment on the action, ensure continuity and infuse the indigenous element and humour. Taking his cue from Tagore's ``Chitrangada," he also used the male-female split in the character of the heroine by having two women play each heroine's role, one the ``female manifestation" and the other ``the male expression."

The play's beginning introduced the theme well. The sutradhar calls out angrily to his wife, ``Nati," the muse of drama, to start the play. Nati storms in, eyes blazing with anger, as she, the mother of ten, is already burdened with the household chores. The sutradhar appeals to Lord Ganesa ``a theatre friendly god" who suggests he invoke Vasantha and Madana to enable him to put up the performances as ``Nati" has run away to get liberated.

The heroines in all the three plays break fresh ground to forge their own identity and gain emotional independence and sexual freedom. And in all the sections Mallika Prasad who played the ``male expression" of the female protagonist was brilliant. She was fiery as Chitrangada and seductive and arrogant as Julie. But in ``A Doll's House" as the suddenly transformed Nora, she was too hard and cold. ``A Doll's House" did not come off as well as the other two portions. The actors never seemed to get into their stride that evening and there was a self-consciousness in their portrayal. The play has not dated as one saw a brilliant version put up by the Shared Experience theatre sometime ago. But here it seemed to belong to another world, another time. Too many poses were struck by the heroine and the crucial dance too did not make the necessary impact. The sound of the receding footsteps and the slammed door hardly registered though it has echoed through innumerable stages around the world in the past 100 years and more.

In Julie, Raza Hussain was more comfortable and convincing as the servant who is lured by the wealthy Miss Julie and crows about his triumph than he was as Nora's chauvinistic husband.

``Chitrangada," about the princess whom Arjuna marries on his travels, took off seamlessly from Julie. In the conceptualisation of her character, the writer used the male expression very strongly though the Bharatanatyam movements by Ashwini Bhat (she has a lovely stage presence) did not jell.

Veena Appiah and M. C. Anand as the gods were droll and delightful. Sound, light and costume design enhanced the play's impact.

It would be good to see Angika back with another production soon.

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