When three is a crowd

Updated: 28 October, 2020 08:06 IST | Shunashir Sen | Mumbai

Catch a virtual play that deals with a woman, her son and daughter-in-law being forced to sleep on the same bed

A still from the play
A still from the play

It is unfortunate that many Indians have a conception that when a woman gets married and moves into her husband's home, she will be at loggerheads with her mother-in-law like two cats meowing at each other and raising a ruckus. There are numerous soap operas across languages that have reinforced this notion, either painting the young bride as someone who is a willing thorn in the relationship that her husband shares with his mum, or vice-versa (close your eyes for a second and imagine the dramatic background music that underscores the pivotal scenes of their evil machinations, to get a better picture). Why does this tu-tu-main-main take place? What can either person do to mend the situation? These are some of the questions that are at the root of a new play called Bed Bugs, which will be screened online this weekend.

Namrata Sharma of Kela Natya Sanstha has directed it, based on a piece written by Manjula Padmanabhan. Sharma tells us that the plot revolves around a newly wed girl who enters her husband's home, only to find that his mother will share a large bed with them every night. It's a complicated situation, because even though the older woman wants to be around the young couple all the time, she doesn't really want to share the bed with them, just like they don't want to either. Sharma, who's also an actor in the play, says, "This is a common Indian scenario, and the story talks about how the mother deals with the situation. It talks about her frustrations and loneliness, and reflects on how we sometimes expect our children to mirror our own lives."

(From left) Amit Dogra, who plays the husband; Namrata Sharma, who plays the wife and mother-in-law; and cinematographer Ravi Varma
(From left) Amit Dogra, who plays the husband; Namrata Sharma, who plays the wife and mother-in-law; and cinematographer Ravi Varma

Another important trope that the script explores is the attitude that Indian people have towards the act of copulation. All three members sleeping on the same bed obviously means that the couple's marriage is as sexless as that of a person marooned alone on an island. Sharma tells us that the irony about Indian marriages is that even though it legalises two people making love to each other, families still brush the subject under the carpet, refusing to talk about it in an open, constructive manner. That, she feels, is where the crux of the problem lies. "People don't communicate and don't let others do it either," she says, adding, "They have mistaken priorities. There are important issues of identity and gender bias that need to be addressed, but aren't talked about. Instead, what we get are empty words for the sake of hypocrisy. It's the absurdity of language. And a resulting loneliness leads to an embedded toxicity in people that travels across generations."

The solution, Sharma continues, is for family members to look straight into the eyes of any elephant that might be in the room, instead of turning the gaze away to a more convenient spot. She says, "If mothers, their sons, and their daughters-in-law each behave a certain way, there is a reason why he or she is acting out in that manner." Unless that root cause is explored, the resultant cycle of toxicity will be perpetuated because one day, the wife will become a mother herself. The tu-tu-main-main will then transfer to her own daughter-in-law. Saas-bahu serials will never stop. And the institution of marriage will keep getting sullied like someone spitting out paan juice on a freshly painted wall.

On October 31, 7 pm
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First Published: 28 October, 2020 08:10 IST

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