Don't Miss: Ila Arun's new drama AJAATSHATRU premieres on Republic Day at the NCPA

January 18, 2024 13:26:30 IST
MTG editorial

Following her participation in a number of plays centered around challenges facing women, Singer-Actor-Writer Ila Arun, along with her theatre group Surnai, presents a new environmental Hindi drama called AJAATSHATRU. The play is an adaptation of the Norwegian playwright and director Henrik Ibsen's AN ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE. AJAATSHATRU is Ila Arun's fifth adaptation of a play by Ibsen.

Here’s how an elated Ila Arun announced about her new drama AJAATSHATRU:

"As the New Year begins so do the activities of our theatre group Surnai which enters its 42nd year. This year we continue with our annual Ibsen Festival, our 8th, with 'AJAATSHATRU', my adaptation of Henrik Ibsen's controversial and revolutionary play, 'AN ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE'. This is the fifth in my series of adaptations of Henrik Ibsen.

Ibsen, hailed as the father of modern drama, dealt with social issues and was often criticized because he wrote realistic plays depicting psychological conflict that emphasized character over cunning plot. For the first time perhaps, the realistic depictions of ordinary middle-class people and everyday contemporary issues were brought to the stage. His audience and his critics were often angry with him because his dramas concentrated more on the individual than the group. And yet his concern for society and the complex issues that plagued the social milieu made him an outspoken critic of his times. Ibsen's writings have stood the test of time and are still relevant in society over a century since their first enactments. Many of his plays dealt with the position of women in society, their dilemmas and their response to their problems. In our pursuit of Ibsen, Surnai also took up plays that concerned the empowerment of women. But after four adaptations, dealing with women's voices, I decided to do a play on the burning issue of pollution and climate change and found the perfect manuscript in 'AN ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE', written in 1882. This was not an easy task and for two years I struggled with my own dilemma of where and how I could place the story in our own context. Then perhaps it was Ibsen's muse that suggested the contamination and pollution of sacred waters, an issue that we have been concerned with since in India all our rivers and several ponds are revered and dedicated to the worship of nature.

Also I have been truly inspired by the Norwegian Consulate's concern with social issues such as water pollution and their contribution towards sustaining the environment by cleaning up the beaches in Mumbai.

'AN ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE' and my adaptation deals with the issue of water contamination and its effect on the health of the townspeople. It takes us to a fictitious town, Sonepur, a town which draws crowds to its kunds or springs believed to cure various ailments.

It is a play within a play and starts with the performance of a street play by Aparajita, the unconquerable, the daughter of AJAATSHATRU, one with no enemies.

Aparajita's folk play emphasizes the tenets of Hindu mythology according to which all the five elements, earth (prithvi), air (vayu), fire (agni), water (jala), and space (akaash) are sacred and need to be respected and protected. Through this folk play, Aparajita questions the destruction of nature. The theme of her play is the Kamal Brahma kund, a stepwell which is contaminated by the parasites on animals. She talks of Brahma, the Creator of the world after whom the stepwell is named and the disrespect given to this precious body of water, the sustenance of life.

The folk play leads into the real world, the realm of greed and lust for power in the town of Sonepur. Aparajita's father, Ajaatshatru is a doctor, the chief medical officer for the town. He is aware of the fact that the bathing kunds have been contaminated due to the neglect of the town council and its Mayor, Abhimanyu Singh, who happens to be his brother. Ajaatshatru's conscience does not permit him to remain silent and he attempts to close down the bathing kunds which would attract several bathers during the festival to be held in Sonepur. When he refuses to be silenced, he is declared an enemy of the people. Thus the play 'AJAATSHATRU' is also a story about a father and daughter who stand alone in the pursuit of truth and human welfare but cannot defeat the political and social majoritarian powers that have poisoned the social fabric of their town. 'An Enemy of the People' presents a complex analysis of society and class. It is the story of one man's quest to stick to his principles no matter what the cost.

The sacred kund of Sonepur becomes a symbol of awareness, of the struggle for a better world, led by the belief that the man who stands alone is perhaps the strongest man. But who is the real enemy of the people, the man who raises his voice in the interest of the people or one who feigns ignorance and wants to be ignorant for his own lust for power and wealth?"

Directed by K K Raina and Ila Arun, AJAATSHATRU will be premiered on Friday, January 26, 2024 (7:00 pm) at the NCPA, Experimental Theatre.

*Mumbai Theatre Guide takes no responsibility for change in schedule.

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