Direction : Pushan Kripalani
Cast : Ira Dubey, Joy Sengupta


Manvi Ranghar

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Pushan Kripalani, at the request of Ila Arun, teamed up with Joy Sengupta and Ira Dubey for an interpretation of Henrik Ibsen's A DOLL'S HOUSE. The play was part of the recently concluded fourth edition of the Ibsen Theatre Festival that Ila Arun has been spearheading in Mumbai.

Ibsen's 1879 play, a feminist theatre precedent of sorts, is also deemed as a masterpiece of social realism. The play revolves around Nora Helmer, a woman, wife and mother, hostage to the expectations and the social performance of her gender in a male-dominated world. She is the 'squirrel', the 'little songbird'...She is dragged through the unfolding of her many lies, until the final moment of her self- assertion, and is dramatically poised to change the course of her life. Few endings in the theatre have sustained such a force that sill resonates.

Pushan Kripalani introduces the play with an electric guitar in hand and with a cheery ease that comes with the faint, relieved air of being commissioned. A minimal cast complements the bare set design. Ira Dubey plays Nora, and Joy Sengupta is every other character. The subplot of Christine Linde and Nils Krogstad is left largely unaddressed.

A DOLL'S HOUSE is a literary classic, "done to death", as Ira Dubey put it, yet efforts to re-contextualise it are always interesting. One waits to observe the delicate balance between the written word and the directorial technique that gives the script its re-imagined life on stage. In that respect, this is a less nuanced version, but it still manages to retain the significance of its text.

Joy Sengupta brought to all his characters, and more particularly to Nora's husband, Torvald Helmer, the show of masculinity necessary to offset his own infantile attributions to his wife. While quite in his element post interval, delivering a tight and calculated end to the play, Joy fades in the first half, often losing his stage whisper to a real one. This leads one to the star of the play. In contrast (and one certainly sees contrast in this production), Ira Dubey's skill as a stage actress is enhanced here. Her craft is sound and studied overcoming the sincere but more naive portrayals of Iraqi women in 9 PARTS OF DESIRE.

As Nora, reacting and juxtaposed by Joy's Torvald, Ira produces a different kind of emotional quality. She is remarkable on a bare stage; her doll-like delivery belies the raging sea of her inner life. Ira's performance of Nora is ironically, the only visible subtlety in this adaptation.

Swiftly doing away with most of the play's key motifs, symbols and subplots, working solely with a line drawing of the house and a theatrical choreography of lighting, fumblingly executed, Pushan plays the guitar through each of Nora's asides. His presence on stage, with a soft light bathing him, is reminiscent of the violinist in Rajit Kapoor's interpretation of THE GLASS MENAGERIE. The sonic palette evokes Nora's inner journey, though somewhat obviously. Nora's future is not uncertain as in the original text. Perhaps here too, a directorial decision has veered too far into the literal. The production appears to come from a place of light experiment. It's a more comfortable space than a provoking one.

The use of a bare stage is effective but postmodernist attempts such as characters changing costume on stage, under blue lighting and through scene changes, initiated by a bell on Joy's arm, seem forced and without locus. Nora's zenith is executed with energy and synchronicity, allowing the audience to reflect the play's relevance even today.

The heart of this Ibsen classic lays not in its domestic narrative, but in the socially determined binaries between man and woman, of her place in her relation to others, and by extension to herself. Nora recognised this unfair dichotomy and she gave us a lead. Since then we women have struggled, and sometimes succeeded in freeing ourselves like Ibsen's famous heroine once did.

*Manvi Ranghar is an actor, writer and environmentalist from Mumbai. She studied Literature and values freedom.

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