& occasionally about other things, too...

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Broken Images

Shabana Azmi is an Indian institution. In a career spanning nearly five decades in cinema, she has invented and reinvented herself and her craft on innumerable occasions. She has earned the respect of auteurs, actors and audiences.

Her activism gave her an edgy profile and a new dimension to her fame that was unnerving to the establishment. She was a part of a group of actors and filmmakers who spoke their mind.

Many of Azmi’s fans have not experienced her acting prowess on the stage, and it wasn’t surprising that hundreds turned up at Mississauga’s Living Arts Centre’s when Anu Srivastava’s newly-formed ARRA Arts announced Broken Images, a play, written by Girish Karnad in 2004, directed by Alyque Padamsee and produced by Raell Padamsee’s Ace Production.

Broken Images is about two sisters Manjula and Malini and their troubled relationship. Karnad presents it as Manjula’s monologue. She is the author of mediocre Hindi novels, who is suddenly shot to fame because critics and readers have loved her debut English novel.

She revels in this glory, albeit momentarily before self-doubt and inner turmoil take control of her emotions. At this stage, the play swiftly turns into a disturbing thriller as it explores the relationship between Manjula, her husband, her sister Malini.

The monologue is presented on the stage as a conversation Manjula is having with herself – with the main protagonist on the stage and the other on a giant television screen. This technological innovation appears to be gimmicky initially but becomes inherent to the play as the monologue progresses.

Monologues are challenging in theatre. The absence of a dialogue between two actors is always constricting and therefore a major hurdle to any actor. Additionally, in this play, the use of television as part of the monologue poses another challenge because it restricts improvisation and gives it a static, non-dynamic quality to the interplay between the two sets of monologues.

Azmi does well to ensure that there is continuity and no awkward or embarrassing silences or miscued timing during the chat that Manjula on stage as with Manjula on television.

Once we move past the innovative use of technology, Karnad’s play is about human relationships. It explores the relationship between the two sisters, the husband and wife, the sister and husband, the attitude Indians have to any creative work in Hindi as opposed to English.

It is a stunning depiction of infidelity and portrays the tremendously soul-destroying capacity intellectual infidelity as opposed to mere physical dalliance.

Having paid for our tickets, we were in those sections that John Lenon famously asked to clap (cheap seats). The others, whom Lenon just wanted to “rattle jewellery,” were in better seats. 

Much to my chagrin, I learnt that many of those occupying the better seats were invited guests of the main sponsors of the production.

Well, I guess, it pays to know the right people, and it doesn't pay to pay for your tickets.

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