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One revolutionary salutes another

Over the last few days, students from JB Petit High School for Girls have been busy sourcing for Parsi sarees as well as a camera from 1907 along with period furniture from Chor Bazaar for a play. This play, Madame Cama, is also a tribute to their former principal Shirin Darasha who passed away in May this year.


Rehearsal of the Madame Cama play. Pic/Neha Parekh

Darasha had originally researched and scripted the play on the life of this exceptional Indian woman, and in 1988, she, along with legendary Pearl Padamsee, had co-directed and staged this path-breaking play that was televised on Doordarshan as well.

After 23 years, the play will be re-staged on October 5 as a reflection of two lives: Madame Cama who strived to free India and Darasha, who worked towards educating and empowering young women.

Drama teacher Aadya Bedi, a former student of Darasha and Padamsee, has directed the three-act, two-hour long play. Interestingly, things have come a full circle, as it was Bedi’s sister Tarini who played Madame Cama’s role then. Speaking about the play, Bedi says, “It was a path-breaking play and there were several versions of it including book and televised versions.

We are trying to revive the play and celebrate Madame Cama, a Parsi woman who courageously walked alone and carved her own path,” says Bedi. There is little documentation available about this less-celebrated freedom fighter. She was born into a rich, influential family but chose to pursue a higher calling and rejected societal norms. “She was a strong female figure; it sends out a very strong message to girls,” adds Bedi.

According to Principal Benaifer P Kutar, few are aware that Madame Cama had unfurled the Indian flag for the first time in Stuttgart, Germany. Despite numerous hardships (including a broken marriage) she believed in the cause of Indian freedom. She was exiled and imprisoned in Europe for her actions. “She wanted to die on Indian soil and was able to return to India when she was very old. Uncelebrated by then, she died a penniless woman. Her patriotism was acknowledged after her death. It’s a beautiful, motivational story,” shares Kutar.

Kutar admits that though the script had to be edited it stays true to the original. “We have sourced photographs of Europe, from that era, to create slides,” she adds. The play spans her lifetime across time and space from Bombay in the 1880s to London, Paris and Stuttgart in Germany where she was the first person to unfurl the Indian flag in 1907.

“It has been a labour of love for the students who rehearse for three hours daily, and the teachers who have guided them. Being a period piece, the elaborate sets, costumes and props were tough to recreate but it has been done and sourced by the students (Standards 7 to 9) and teachers,” states Bedi. “It is relevant in today’s times and inspires leadership. She was a mysterious character and a revolutionary. We are trying to revisit the earlier play. Shirin Darasha’s archival notes and facts from her book have helped, immensely,” reveals Bedi.

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