HYDERABAD : It’s not for the first time that Spanish playwright-poet Garcia Lorca’s play La casa de Bernarda Alba or The House of Bernarda Alba has been adapted for Indian audience. In 1991, filmmaker Govind Nihalani made a feature film on it titled Rukmavati Ki Haveli which focused on dogmatic matriarchal control in an all-female family.
Later, it was adapted as a play by Raghuvir Sahay and performed by different theatre groups. Hyderabad-based Nibha Theatre Ensemble staged it as the play Birjees Qadar Ka Kumba at Lamakaan recently. Directed by Nasreen Ishaque, who has a graduate degree from NSD along with several other accolades, the play won hearts making people reflect on moral code versus human freedom especially of women by women.
The play opens with a typical female household set-up which appears normal initially; five women sitting together, their heads bent as they are busy embroidering. The house is of Birjees Qadar, a widow, and now head of the family. She lives with her five unmarried daughters, Hasan Baandi and an old ailing mother Akhtari Begum. What doesn’t seem normal is the exchange of frequent sharp remarks among the sisters. And no it’s not just sibling acrimony reaching its peak.
This is built with high tension within the family not only of repression but also jealousy for one another over a man, a lover. This lover is Athar Yusuf to whom the eldest daughter is engaged to be married, the other four sisters, too, are interested in him. There is a confrontation between Birjees and Mushtari, over a photograph of Athar that Mushtari had hidden. Later she warns the younger sister Aadila that she will not let her unite with Athar as the latter is in love with this man. The sisters have difference of opinion over a young girl who becomes pregnant without marriage and is stoned to death. Mushtari vows to put her sister through the same torture as she suspects that Aadila is carrying Athar’s child.
Act three opens with Akhtari Begum trying to escape. But is brought back and locked up by the sisters. This also has hidden connotations of the desire of the sisters to escape the household. Mushtari and Aadila confront each other over Athar and Mushtari reveals to her mother that Aadila is in love with the man and secretly meets him. Birjees goes to shoot him while Mushtari falsely informs everyone of his death. The play ends with Aadila committing suicide as Birjees mutters: “She died a virgin.”
The play which was written years ago by Lorca in a semi-feudal Spain is pertinent even today in different pockets of South Asia where women are regarded as morally pure with their virginity intact and death is preferred to the so-called ‘corruption of the body and soul’. The play is quite relevant even in the current time as several of them are killed in the name of honour. Time is the glue which brings past and present together only to reveal that for women not much has changed.