SELFIE (Hindi)

Direction : Paritosh Painter
Cast : Lucky Morani, Madhurima Nigam, Urvashi Sharma Joshi, Deepshikha and Rupali Ganguly

SELFIE (HINDI) Play Review


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The Greek hunter Narcissus lost his will to live after being transfixed by his own reflection in the pond. These days however our ''selfies'' replay narcissism and our desire to live and project lives that vicariously feed off each other. Be it a vacation, a new car, dinner with friends; every little event is recorded to show the world the best version/s of our lives. But real life we know is not as perfect as Instagram.

The play SELFIE, written and directed by Paritosh Painter, aims to portray the darker side of the less than perfect lives of five women who run into each other at the ladies waiting room of a railway station. This is seemingly a different offering from Painter, whose previous plays have been lighter comedies based on the cliched ''battle of the sexes''. Here, the plot purportedly zooms into the inner lives of the five women. The road to hell is paved with good intentions and Painter's production starts off as a breath of fresh air. It soon reveals however to have taken upon itself all the ''it'' subjects of popular feminist discourse - from abortion, sexuality, gender roles in a marriage, and so on - and treats them ever so simplistically. It would have done the team a world of good to give up on trying to champion the dozen or so causes it flags and to instead have spent time researching and introspecting even one or two of the issues with more maturity.

The premise is full of dramatic potential. Each of these ladies, strangers to each other, are running away, literally or figuratively, from some terrible situations in their lives. Despite stereotypical characters, the actress playing Zeenat stood out from the others in the cast in the show I saw. I believe the actress was a replacement for Lucky Morani who I guess was to otherwise play the part. Zeenat's portrayal brought a touch of reality to the personas of the other women and made the play a tad more relatable. The others, familiar faces from television and film, still seemed to be getting used to performing on stage.

Like other pseudo-progressive stories we see in Indian films, television and theatre sometimes, this play too seems to drive across the message that while some kinds of oppression are despicable, others are not. A lazily crafted exposition may be forgiven as it leads to interesting and somewhat realistic discussions between urban middle-aged women regarding sexuality, gender and independence. This then makes way for less palatable discourse.

For example, Paramjeet, a middle-aged Punjabi business woman who is happy to relate that her husband and her never wanted children, then goes on to reveal that she is pretending to not want children for her husband's sake while, ''just like every woman'' she does indeed want to be a mother. A terribly missed opportunity to portray a traditional middle-class woman otherwise, which becomes all the more grating when her fellow travellers encourage her to stop taking contraception pills without letting her husband know.

Continuing down the woman-is-mother road, the plot distances further when Ayesha, the famous celebrity, decides to keep the baby she does not really want, but finally acquiesces and gives into Paramjeet's remarks that having a baby is a blessing that she cannot refuse. These are just a few instances where the plot is on a wafer thin line between female independence and dogma.

The incessant use of entry sound cues, music with an overtly emotional tone, the repetitive pattern of each of the characters taking turns with their front-facing poignant soliloquies, and convenient plot twists, further contribute to an underwhelming and an especially trying second half of the show. It is a shame that this play ultimately ends up as a confused tear-jerker. Its premise might have actually challenged the outmoded ideas of gender and relationships but its inherent conventionality with simplistic solutions and predictable outcomes lets it down.

*Chopol is fond of theatre and writing, and of combining the two.

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