Director : Vipul Mahagaaonkar
Cast : Ila Bhate


Deepa Punjani


As it is often with solo performances, the performer's involvement is of considerable significance. So, let me say at the outset, that the solo performance by Ila Bhate is the clincher in this production. The play is based on the story by well-known Marathi writer Vijaya Rajadhyaksha. It has been adapted for the stage and directed by Vipul Mahagaonkar.

Quite simply, the story is about an old woman in her 70s, who reminisces her past in the context of the costs of day to day life. What makes it appealing is the narrative that Rajadhyaksha has woven around the theme. The old woman's little diaries - her informal books of accounts that she has maintained over the years, contain not merely numbers, but are a source of memories from her life as she formerly saw it and lived it. Her reflections also attest to the lives of millions like her before Liberalisation in India.

It was never cheap then, nor is it cheap now to live in a city like Mumbai, but Liberalisation brought with it, a remarkable change in the perception of money in middle-class households. The old woman is unable to come to terms with the way her son, daughter and daughter-in-law regard money. Their expenses and lack of maintaining a proper account of day to day expenditure baffle and overwhelm her, although she acknowledges them to be good children, educated and independent.

Most of the story derives its impact from nostalgia. There is a yearning for the past, for a value system that has been eroded and Ila Bhate plays her part to the hilt. Vipul Mahagaonkar's direction is sensitive. He recognises that he has a strong performer, and is thus able to work towards nuances of both performance and design - working out Bhate's pauses, her sips of water from a traditional vessel, the old trunk that she rummages her diaries from, the Tulsi plant, the incense smoke, appropriate music at appropriate junctures to underline the emotions, and the quiet, but effective presence of the character's mother-in-law off stage.

Rajadhakshaya wrote the story in the early nineties, just around the time when India was compelled to liberalise its economy, thus bringing with it opportunities for its well-entrenched middle and upper classes. The change has been swift. In the new century, Rajadhyaksha's story may well be redundant, even though there were enthusiastic demands for it to be updated in the post-show discussion at the NCPA, where the play was part of its annual Marathi theatre festival called Pratibimb. Sentiments can outrun statistics - in this case the economics that govern money.

The thrifty middle-class Indian ensconced in Rajadhyaksha's character has undergone a great transformation, but its penchant for emotionalised drama has not. Essentially, this is a middle-class, wistful tale for its fast transforming middle-class audience. The hard reality is that many Indians continue to remain untouched by the vicissitudes of the complex Indian economy in which caste and class are inextricably intertwined.

If there is a moment of actual interrogation that can be derived from this story, steeped in emotionalism, it is of our collective participation in the sterile consumerism that has beset our lives. And, money, well, is just a mere cog in this smug global market.

*Deepa Punjani is the Editor of this website.

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