A woman tempted to cheat on her husband, a neighbour who tries to topple her moral compass and a slew of men lusting after her. A situation like this can be didactically dramatic in real life but for Kasturba Panda, it turns out to be hilarious. Yes, life’s grey areas can be comical, and this is what the funnily titled Kasturba Panda Ki Pantie (KPKP) wants the audience to believe.
The solo act directed by young theatre actor Madhav Mehta, prisms a frustrated housewife trapped in a bad marriage, her struggle when temptations come her way and her eventual discovery of her real self in the series of incidents.
Set in Delhi, the play has the popular Sundar Nagar Diwali Mela as the backdrop, with Panda, a regular south Delhi housewife, in the middle of it. “Though she belongs to the swish set of Sundar Nagar, she is as identifiable as any woman living in this region. It was for the sake of convenience that I chose to make the plush south Delhi colony as her residence,” says Mehta, before delving further into her character.
“Kasturba had an arranged marriage, in which she did not have any say; the husband not only pushes her around but the couple also does not have any sexual relations.” When a chain of comical events leads to Panda’s sari, petticoat and panties falling off at the famed mela in public, she becomes the object of desire of several men around. She is faced with the prospect of seeking sexual gratification outside her marriage, and Kishmish, her neighbour suggests she should take the plunge.
Mehta feels that the play has touched upon infidelity as a means of liberation instead of betrayal. “KPKP has infidelity as an important element and Kasturba is flawed because she is human with needs and desires. We are not being sanctimonious about it. She is boxed in a toxic marriage, while she struggles with her internal self, trying to precariously balance on the morality foreground,” the 28-year-old explains.
Farhad Colabavala, who plays the onstage Kasturba and the other six characters (husband, Kishmish and the paramours), finds her to be a “subtle” superhero. “She has the courageous to express her desires, what she wants to do. That makes her very brave.” He, however, agrees with Mehta.
“She is going through moral dilemma and is on a shaky surface. But the weakness could be from lack of ethical judgment or outside influence of Kishmish. So I have not judged it since I first portrayed her in 2012, but have always felt sympathetic,” says Colabavala. Was it challenging to project infidelity so starkly, especially with a woman at the end of the thread? “We have taken a comical dig on it because life is never lived only in black and white. Divorce, affair, unhappy marriage are commonplace and we have tried to highlight everyone’s shades of grey, neutralising everyone,”he states.
Kasturba Panda Ki Pantie will be staged at Akshara Theatre from June 26 to July 7, 7:30 pm