Subarnalata, a story of a woman ahead of her times was brought alive on stage by Kshitij Theatre Group under the able direction of Kirti Jain at Stain Auditorium, India Habitat Centre, New Delhi, on Saturday.
Subarnalata, forms second book of the trilogy by noted Bengali writer Ashapoorna Devi. The novels deal with lives of three generations of women in early nineteenth century of Bengal. The first book Prothom Pratishruti, fetched the writer coveted Jnanpith Award. The third book, Bokul Katha is about Subarnalata’s daughter Bokul.
Kirti has picked up a few incidents from these books which very effectively highlight Subarnalata’s lifelong fight against oppressive treatment meted to women and her desire of equal dignity and right as men.
Married off at the age of nine, against her mother’s wish Subarnalata’s days comprise of never ending tongue lashing of her mother in law Muktokeshi, physical abuse of her husband Kedarnath and her desire to break free from the confine of the four walls of the house even if that means just a glimpse of the road from the veranda. Her new friendship with a neighbor with whom she could talk to by tapping the wall in a way of signal proves to be short lived. Subarnalata does leave the house in protest but only to return as her father expresses his inability to give her shelter on account of social stigma.
The sounds of freedom struggle echo in Subarna’s house too but her attempts to identify with the movement by burning foreign clothes are rudely snubbed. Her support was her daughter Bokul, understanding brother-in-law Ambika and a letter from her mother written long ago encouraging her not to give up the right to live her life on her own terms.
Kirti’s play does not end as a tear jerker but as a challenge to obsolete and obstructive ideas of gender biases. She feels women have been able to come out of social restrictions only to an extent. Search for individual space and identity has become an issue for all when the society is in a retrograde mode.
The production is remarkable as well thought out scenes highlight the story but do not linger on unnecessarily. The Director managed to provide a few lighter moments in this otherwise somber play though they just emphasise Muktokeshi’s hold over her sons. Lovely Raj brought out pathos and defiance of Subarnalata with equal aplomb. She breathed life into the role. Bharti Sharma as Muktokeshi was dominating. She made her presence felt with her flawless acting. Prabhat Mishra as Kedarnath and Shruti Singh as Bokul should also be lauded for their performance.
Use of two Tagore songs added a lot of weight to the narration but not-Bengali –knowing audience might not have been able to appreciate how appropriate they were to the play.