A play that about the lady commander in Rani Laxmibai's army
A new play brings to life the unsung warrior in Rani Laxmibai's army, who battled British forces in the 1857 revolt with stealth and disguise
Last month, actor Kritika Pandey, director Neha Singh and writer Punarvasu travelled to Bhojala, a village that's six kilometres from Jhansi in Uttar Pradesh. It's the birthplace of Jhalkari, a girl born into the Korin community, who became a commander in Rani Laxmibai's army. Known as the Durga Sena, the band fought British forces during the national uprising of 1857. Pandey recalls, "I felt a shiver down my spine when I entered her home. We walked in the same fields that she would have and heard stories about her valour from the locals. Like the time she killed a tiger using an axe in the jungles near Bhojala." The people of Bundelkhand have also kept her alive in folk songs that hail her as a beacon of courage and strength for the community. The trio recorded several such tracks, and their live renditions, performed on stage with instruments, are part of the play, Jhalkari, which premieres this weekend.
"Traditional historians take no stand on her existence, but the people of Bundelkhand are certain about it. There are various versions of her life story, and we have tried to capture their essence," says 35-year-old Singh, who runs the popular movement Why Loiter? and has acted in over 15 plays, including the acclaimed Dohri Zindagi, which premiered last year.
Trace the roots
The 90-minute play has been produced by Rahi, a platform Singh created with Dhruv Lohumi to tell stories of marginalised heroes. In fact, she came across Jhalkari while reading about Azizun Bai, a courtesan and freedom fighter in the 1857 battle. "I was fascinated by the stories of these two simple women, who contributed towards the struggle for India's Independence. However, there is so much to them that I could do justice to only one character in a play, so I picked Jhalkari Bai," says Singh, who undertook intensive research to stay true to the subject. The team perused books like Mohandas Naimish Rai's Veerangana Jhalkari Bai and Jhansi ki Rani by Vrindavanlal Verma. They also sought the help of Dr Munna Tiwari, head of department at Bundelkhand University, to gain access to students and professors of the university's Hindi department.
In order to trace Jhalkari's story, they also revisited the legend of Rani Laxmibai, considering the former was also her lookalike, and disguised herself as the queen to cock-a-snook at the British forces. They visited the Rani Laxmibai Museum and met the Vice Chancellor of Bundelkhand University to seek his expertise on the history of the region, historian Mukund Mehra and advocate Kushwaha, an expert on Bundelkhandi folk literature and music.
Featuring Hindi and Bundelkhandi with a smattering of English, the play includes six actors, male and female artistes, who will perform in gender-neutral costumes. Kritika Pandey and NSD graduate Annapurna Soni play Jhalkari during different phases of her life. Meanwhile, Dipika Pandey, a trained dancer and kalaripayattu artiste, plays Rani Laxmibai. "The biggest challenge was to get the body movements and traits of a warrior right," says Pandey.
She, along with fellow kalaripayattu expert Arpit Singh, trained the cast in this martial art. They even learnt stick and sword fighting to showcase an authentic representation of the Durga Sena's strengths. "Since not much information is available on Jhalkari bai's personal life, we had take the liberty to imagine what she must have been like at home and her love for her husband. The fictionalised elements will help the audience relate to her," says Singh, adding that the opening show is a tribute to Jyoti Singh, who fought the men who gang raped her in Delhi in 2012.
On : December 17, 8 pm
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