The recent spate of sexual crimes against women has spurred many a debate. Usually the society ends up having a divided opinion on such incidents. While people who claim to be the guardians of society hold the woman responsible for the act, accusing her of dressing inappropriately, behaving indecently, provoking the man and venturing into unknown areas at late hours, conscientious individuals empathise with the woman and are enraged after the act. Acclaimed Indian playwright Vijay Tendulkar tackled this issue deftly in his Marathi play Chi Sau Ka, which he penned in the 1980s.
The story revolves around Anjali Sharma, better known as Anji, who hails from north India and wants to find a suitable match for herself. Her two sisters are married and she is the breadwinner of the family. Her parents fear that once she gets married, they will become financially unstable, so they don’t look out for a groom for her proactively. Thirty-year-old Anji decides to take matters in her hands and starts looking for a match. During her journey, she comes across several funny characters and situations. In her quest to get married soon, she is willing to take risks and on one such occasion, she decides to meet a stranger and is eventually raped. What follows next forms the crux of the story.
The climax persuades the audience to re-examine the Indian society’s value system that especially concerns women. The play, which opened in the late ’80s, has been performed by several Hindi and Marathi theatre groups. Veteran theatre actor Dinesh Thakur’s Ank was one such group that staged it during that era. After staging 650 shows over the years, the production was performed last in 2007. Now, the piece is being revived and will be staged on December 17 at Prithvi Theatre.
The Hindi adaptation has been done by Dr Vasant Deo. Preeta Mathur Thakur, president of Ank, who also plays the protagonist, says, “The play is a satirical comment on society. We decided to revive it mainly because the subject is very topical and also we were toying with the idea of reviving it for many years. In its new avatar, the piece is much more concise. We have reduced its length from three hours to two hours as now the audience has a short attention span.”
Rather than being just another play that follows the protagonist’s story, Anji features a sutradhar (commentator) who narrates the incident in a tongue-in-cheek manner and comments on the society’s double standards by singing Hindi folk songs, thumri and popular film songs along with playing the tabla. So on one hand, while the society chides Anji for being not married despite being 30, it fails to recognise and appreciate the fact that she runs the family and takes care of her parents.
Earlier Dinesh Thakur helmed the play and also played the sutradhar’s role. Now Mathur Thakur is directing the production and Mukul Nag is essaying the sutradhar’s role. Nag, who has been a part of the production since many years and essayed other roles, says it has been a challenge to step into Thakur’s shoes. “Dineshji had a natural flair for Hindi and music and played the tabla beautifully. For this role, I had to learn the instrument and ensure that I don’t imitate him but interpret the character in my own way,” says Nag.
Mathur Thakur says though the piece is a satire and is laced with humour and punchlines it essentially drives home a simple point. “Anji sends out the message that a rape is an accident. It can happen any time anywhere. The girl is definitelynot responsible for it. Just as an accident victim needs love, care, attention and rehabilitation, likewise a woman who suffers rape needs to be handled with care rather than facing social stigma. In this case, Anji, the character is a positive person and takes the incident in her stride.”