Contrary to popular belief, having a baby is not always the greatest joy in a woman’s life. For many, it results in postpartum depression. Ila Arun and KK Raina’s latest production Baby’s Blues explores just this exact sentiment. Over a two-hour period the lead actress Dilnaz Irani goes from her fears before the birth of a baby to the disgust and abhorrence in the months that follow. It is only in the final scene of the play that she is able to begin to experience the joys of motherhood—a powerful performance to say the least.
The Surnai Theatre Foundation, Mumbai, that produced this play has pursued its twin aims of promoting the folk arts of India and staging thought-provoking contemporary plays since 1982. Its commitment to issues related to gender is apparent in productions like the much-performed Jamila Bai Kalali, an adaptation of a South American play, now set in a bar in Rajasthan with Ila herself as Jamila Bai. Or last year’s production of Ibsen’s feminist classic Dolls House. Ila is of course well-known as a folk singer par excellence and as an actress and, KK Raina was one of the stars of the NSD Repertory Company, often acting opposite Pankaj Kapoor. Their undeterred commitment to the cause of theatre over 30 years is commendable.
Tammy Ryan’s script about the reality altering experience of new motherhood is an outcome of her own emotional experience, and is also steeped in research of clinical cases, from the present and also going as far back as the mid-19th century. The play is inspired by Andrea Yates, convicted of drowning her five children in a bathtub in Texas in 2001, and the author’s own journey of postpartum depression.
It is wonderful that the first international production on this tough subject matter, and of this particular script is happening in India, and not somewhere in Europe.
Baby’s Blues has a non-linear narrative, with characters separated from one another in time and space, and some of these characters are even imaginary, though they share the same stage space. The lead’s mother, who is hinted at as being alcoholic, is not pro-babies at all. With her at all times is a young girl, who sometimes seems like the lead’s younger self and at other times like the conscience of the lead. Some of the action of these two are palpable and realistic: sharing a burger, talking about the nurturing of plants; at other times their presence serves as metaphor and allegory, amplifying and occasionally is in juxtaposition to the main action.
The young parents are ill at ease with the baby, and often even with one another. The young woman’s friend Terri and her doctor are played almost as non-supportive caricatures on the periphery of the action denying the very real angst of the lead. Watching closely, though commenting only occasionally, is the French doctor Louis Victor Marce, who studied the phenomenon of postpartum depression in the 19th century.
With Surnai’s impressive track record of adapting European plays into an Indian context, including several by Ibsen, it would be interesting to see Baby Blues in an Indian avtaar. I can almost hear it in Hindi, with a Marathi flavour, punctuated by songs, ditties and the lullabies that are sung to babies in Marathi, and the French doctor supplanted by a traditional Indian midwife with her own gyan on PPD. Are you listening, Ila?
The writer is a Delhi-based theatre director and can be recahed at firstname.lastname@example.org