Among the many extra-curricular activities I indulged in during my campus days directing plays was one. The last play I directed while on campus was “Kamala”.
“Kamala”, written by the famous Marathi playright Vijay Tendulkar, is based on a real-life incident. An investigative journalist out to expose the trading of women in India actually buys a woman from a small town market. He brings her home and plans to keep her there till the time is right to announce this to the world.
The journalist’s wife, Sarita, who is well-educated discovers a kinship with the woman, Kamala. When she reflects on her own life and relationship with her husband, Sarita realizes that she is not any better-off than Kamala and that she was getting as much exploited as Kamala. Towards the end of the play Sarita decides that she has to do something about her lot. The play ends with her drunken husband entering the house at night after an altercation with his newspaper bosses. He stumbles in and falls in a drunken stupor. While Sarita is determined to assert herself, her individuality, she also knows that as a wife she has to be a pillar of support for her husband in his tribulations.
So that is the story of Kamala in a nutshell. But this piece is not about the plot of the play, but the first staging of my version of it.
While I had worked hard on the play, I had worked especially hard on the ending.
The way I had envisaged it was that the husband sprawls on the sofa in the living room. (Sarita, who has already made up her mind, decides to support the husband in his trying times). She takes her husband’s feet onto her lap and is in the process of removing his shoes. At this moment I had planned a freeze, a long freeze. While she is in the shoe-removal process (shoe-removal= being a support to her husband), wife looks away to a distant horizon (horizon= her emancipated future). The freeze was planned for ten seconds. This is a very long time for a freeze on stage. A spot was to come on to the wife’s face with rest of the stage fading into darkness. I had got a brilliant young carnatic flautist- a junior in college- to play Raga Bhoopalam which is the raga of dawn (dawn= awakening of the wife, in case you do not get it!). And then, after the freeze, the curtains were to come down on the play. I had briefed another helpful junior of mine to operate the curtains at the appropriate time.
After the curtains, would come the giant round of applause, I thought to myself as I marveled at my brilliant conception of the climax.
I was sitting in the audience and was watching the play. It was going on perfect! Even the moments where I had found my actors making odd movements during the rehearsals, their movements were fluid, with a capital F! And one of the key actors, who always forgot his lines during tense moments in the play, managed to deliver his lines pat! The audience comprised of my engineering college mates who, as anyone will know, can be very, very painful if the play does not go too well. Especially if the actors involved are their college-mates, which all the actors of “Kamala” were! The was a pin-drop silence in the auditorium! It was going on perfectly well.
I eagerly anticipated the applause at the end!
Came the climax scene. The husband sprawls picture-perfect on the sofa. In walks the wife and does her feet-on-the-lap and shoe-removal thing. Lightman dims stage lights and turns on the spot on wife’s face. Then freeze! Raga Bhoopalam comes on, as mellifluous as ever. Wow! I am about to start the clapping process myself!
Then suddenly, just after three seconds of freeze, our curtain-man decides to get active. He pulls the curtain! I am hopping mad. Hopping! Months of planning and my creative master-stroke shred to bits by a careless curtain guy! Apoplectic with rage, I run down the aisle towards the stage. The hapless curtain-puller in the wings sees me charging down and realizes his mistake. And guess what he does!! He opens the curtain back to full view! I give up and run away from the stage to the back of the hall. The wife and husband on stage mercifully are still frozen and the flautist and the lightman are still sticking to my brief.
End of second 12 and the curtain closes again. The round of applause does follow (my friends tell me later), but I do not hear it as I am already outside the auditorium, ruing the day I decided to do this play.
I pull myself out of bed and walk towards the tea-stalls near the hostel for a smoke and a cup of tea. The moment I seat myself on the bench, I am accosted by some friends who evidently had been doing a critical review of “Kamala” and wanted to know from me what the symbolism stood for.
“What symbolism”, I ask irritatedly.
“Oh, the one about the curtains drawing, opening, and drawing again. Did this stand for tentativeness on Sarita’s part?”
I am agape with astonishment! The errors on stage were being analyzed for their symbolic meanings!
A few sips of hot tea clear my head. “Of course”, I say, “I am glad you were able to figure out the meaning. Good!”