Ode to the breast giver in theatre

The conversation is subtly directed towards Jashoda, the protagonist who breastfeeds children of a Haldar family and through the income feeds her own family. 

Published: 28th January 2017 03:20 AM  |   Last Updated: 28th January 2017 11:07 AM   |  A+A-

Photos | Sathya Keerthi

Express News Service

HYDERABAD: It took a Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak to bring to the world Mahasweta Devi, who portrayed the subaltern in ways not many writers could do. In a land still torn by class-and-caste marginalisation, the marginalised that she wrote about is time and again presented on stage. This time at HLF Budhan Theatre presented the story in a dramatised performance. 

The group is of Chhara community actors, who belong to Denotified Tribes (DNTs) . It was Mahasweta Devi who along with Dr Ganesh N Devy went to their town, Chhara Nagar, in Gujarat.

The play directed by Dakshin Bajrange was a tribute to the community to the writer. Sadly, the community was known as those of ‘thieves’ and ‘thugs’ thanks to the 1959 Habitual Offenders Act which labelled them as ‘born criminals’. The community is now known for its theatre skills thanks to their efforts and support by activists. 

Interestingly, the play titled ‘Choli Ke Pichchhe Kya Hai’ set in a small village of West Bengal opened to a full house playing the much sneered Bollywood number of the same title from the 90s movie Khalnayak. The play started with the raconteur in a dazzling get-up who also played the feudal lady in the story talking about bras sizes of women overseas.

The conversation is subtly directed towards Jashoda, the protagonist who breastfeeds children of a Haldar family and through the income feeds her own family. 

The irony is that she must have milk in her breasts which is not possible without her getting pregnant every year by her crippled husband. The result is that she becomes a mother of 17 children and carrier of breast cancer which ultimately kills her. The portraiture of Jashoda was interesting.

Two actors played the protagonist to present her mirror-image that made pathos more intriguing. It was men who had to play the role of standayini, quite a unique portraiture of the subaltern. Their expressions were successful in bringing the tenderness of a woman especially when she is in pain or putting her milky breasts on sale to feed her family. Her, voice, is never heard. Its absentia is the essence of the character. 

The climax is when Jashoda’s blouse bursts open while nuts and bolts scatter all around giving the play a pointed end which otherwise wouldn’t have been achieved had the same been not played by men. The mockery was on the face of society itself. 

India Matters


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