Decoding Ibsen

Updated: 25 November, 2019 11:13 IST | Shunashir Sen | Mumbai

The Norwegian Consulate is organising a talk on playwright Henrik Ibsen, featuring three experts who will delve into his life and work

Henrik Ibsen
Henrik Ibsen

It's getting increasingly difficult to speak out against the establishment. Critical voices are being silenced, and ones that fawn over the authorities are being offered the loudest platforms. But what we need are people who have the courage to speak truth to power. We need someone who can hold a mirror up to society and show how silence is the easiest form of complicity when the rights of an individual are being trampled on. We need, in other words, someone like Henrik Ibsen, the famed 19th-century playwright who consistently called out the hypocrisies prevalent in his time, through works like A Doll's House and An Enemy of the People.

The Norwegian had the gumption to go against the grain. In an era when women's rights were given scant regard, he wrote scripts that showed how a wife leaves her husband when she realises that he's a narcissist who takes her for granted. He also wrote about how the destiny of a philandering man is to give birth to a son with syphilis at a time when people would baulk at the mere mention of a venereal disease. The man's pen didn't water his thoughts down. Instead, it let them flow unfiltered to the extent that taboo subjects like superstition and morality became his calling card of sorts. And a talk this evening will dissect how the themes that he touched upon 150 years ago are relevant even now.

Ila Arun
Ila Arun

The Norwegian Consulate is organising it, and the three experts who will deep-dive into the playwright's works are actor-singer Ila Arun, author Ivo de Figueiredo and translator Astri Ghosh. Of them, Arun has adapted three of Ibsen's plays already and will stage a fourth one, Hedda Gabler, in January next year. She thus has a keen insight into who he was as a person.

"I realised that he always questioned the society of his time, especially its attitude towards women. They weren't supposed to have their own dreams. They didn't have the right to choose. And I felt that whatever he said all those decades ago is relevant even today in, say, a place like Rajasthan where girls are married at the age of 10. Even in educated circles, we support dowry, abuse and violence," Arun tells us, pointing out how, despite Ibsen sending out a clear message, we still haven't seen the writing on the wall.

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First Published: 25 November, 2019 09:09 IST

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