Monday, 28 January, 2008


Vijay Tendulkar's Kanyadaan
Directed by:Lillete Dubey
Cast: Rajendra Gupta,Lillete Dubey,Joy Sen Gupta,Radhika Apte and Raghaav Chanana

I went to see this play almost by fluke. It was shown in Delhi’s Kamani Auditorium as part of the 10th Delhi theatre utsav (Bharat rang Mahotsav) on the 15th of January 2008. By the strength of the crowd who had gathered outside Kamani waiting patiently for passes to come from God knows where, it seemed that this play is pretty popular. The play opened almost to a full house. It started off pretty well. Set in the early 1980s about a politician father, an activist mother and two siblings-- brother and sister who seemed to be sharing a good rapport. Things were going ok with good racy dialogues till the girl announces that she has fallen in love with a dalit boy whom she wants to marry. The dalit boy is from a poor background, new to the glittering lights of Pune, not used to the confines of brick and cement houses, a poet, a drunk and an abuser to boot. The girl realises that the man is abusive but she decides to marry him. Her parents and her brother also are aware of his character. The father eggs her on in the name of being true to what he preaches that is social integration with low castes. The mother and the brother are deeply apprehensive and they try to warn the girl and also the father on the grounds that she was brought up in a different sort of atmosphere and that she cannot adjust with this guy or his family or their mud hut in some remote village. Though they made sure to clarify that their problem was not certainly the cast of this guy.
The characters in this play are very stereotype—the mother even though she is a feminist and a social activist bows down to the father at every stage be it during her daughter’s marriage or when the daughter had enough of her drunk abusive husband and wanted to return to her parent’s house, the brother has not much role expect to serve tea and console the mother and the girl is merely foolish and obstinate which she conveniently blames on her father’s ideals and upbringing and the father who among the lot was the only progressive one is shown at the end to bow down to his principles and admit defeat when his own interests are at stake. The dalit boy’s character is shown to be a contradiction, someone who is a poet and a wife beater, he doesn’t hesitate to kick his pregnant wife or use his father-in-law’s name for his benefit and he is always drunk. The excuse for all these shortcomings in his character is his being a poor dalit of scavenger parents who while growing up saw his father beating his mother. At a time when India is grappling with caste issues with caste becoming a political factor like never before and the Indian youth being divided along caste lines this kind of theatre hurts the cause of the dalits more than anything else. I don’t have a problem with the dalit boy’s character expect that central to it was his dalit-ness. Had it been just a boy from an unspecified caste then maybe it would have been more successful in portraying the wife abuser. But sadly the character was all dalit and everything else was because of that. Aren’t upper caste men wife abusers or drunks or manipulative? Are all the above-mentioned vices low caste specific? Isn’t it time we stopped kidding ourselves?
The sad part was that the play was full of anti dalit dialogues and the audience was all claps. At one point I got confused thinking was I missing some underlying thread, which everyone else seems to have got.
The play is also very anti- feminist. It actually sends out a message that women are supposed to stay in abusive relationships because their father’s taught them not to run away from any situation in life. Now isn’t there a whole lot of difference between being irresponsible and accepting abuse?
I am surprised that eminent personalities are doing such plays. If dalit writers have attacked Tendulkar for anti dalit writings I fully understand and support them. I read some of the critics of this play. Most have said that even though this play is set in the 80s it is still relevant now. If by that they mean the play’s portrayal of the upper caste mentality towards the dalits then surely it is relevant.
Superb acting and stagecraft lost in a bad cause.


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