Direction : Dhiraj Palshetkar
Writer : Prayag Dave
Cast : Bhamini Gandhi, Shilpa Pandia, Pooja Damania and Hetal Dedhia


Deepa Punjani

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Commercial Gujarati theatre need not always be about laughs and slapstick comedy although it may often give the impression of being so. There is an attempt to do things differently as is evidenced by some productions, one of the recent being THE WAITING ROOMS, written by Prayag Dave and directed by Dhiraj Palshetkar. Yet the need to co-opt with the larger establishment makes even the more thoughtful play, often predictable and clichéd. Uncomfortable themes (they are rarely very uncomfortable though) find 'happy' outcomes. Guarantee a few laughs here and there, some wise audible nods, and you might have cracked the formula of being different while still being essentially the same. It appears you can never risk too much.

A play like THE WAITING ROOMS, which on the face of it is a woman-centric play, and which could have been promising, is sadly but significantly reduced to modern stereotypes. The plot is centred on four women from different age-groups and different walks of life, and who come face to face for a few hours in a waiting-room at a train station in North India. There is only one waiting-room, yet the plural emphasised in the title, is perhaps suggestive of the inner 'waiting rooms' of these women, although its credibility is hard to imagine or appreciate in the course of the play.

After considerable goofing on by Bhamini Gandhi (she's the proverbial comedy lifeline) which extends through most of the play, the individual stories are revealed. The climax intended to be a surprise brings the play to an abrupt end, and is filmy as much of the play turns out to be. The women are reduced to types of which the first casualty is Gandhi's own character. Clearly meant to amuse with her Gujarati dialect and brogue, she effectively becomes a Gujju caricature. On the plus side, she has good old common sense and some of it rubs off on Pooja Damania, who plays an alcohol-swigging, corporate executive. Her character too is worn down by familiar platitudes, and has to ultimately justify for her alcohol habit. Shilpa Pandia plays a teacher and Hetal Dedhia plays the young, orphaned, independent, and so-called 'modern' girl. Quite predictably again, the teacher's character is the most quiet - she is shown reading most of the time and has glasses. The destinies of these women are linked as revealed at the end, but the deliberateness of this enterprise in the service of the plot is hackneyed and appears fantastic.

The need to entertain, please, toe the line with stock responses to sexist attitudes and the vulnerability of women - a hot media topic post the Delhi rape case, or the domestic violence that women face is without any critical thought. The fallout is that this re-creates old, ingrained prejudices bordering on male patriarchy; the 'modern' context of the woman is hence, a mere dressing. In the play, she therefore is not liberated although she wants us to believe that she is. In any case, one has to be careful while talking about Indian women. They are not a homogenous class and coming down to community specifics, neither are Gujarati women for that matter either. Hence what the playwright achieves is a superficial class distinction in terms of dress and speech and that too has no real bearing on the play.

In terms of overall performance, Bhamini Gandhi is in command as she is meant to be. The rest of the cast is up to the task too, and play out their parts reasonably well. While there has been a measure of seriousness in casting these women as distinct characters, THE WAITING ROOMS may have been a better play if these women were drawn with subtlety and had more interesting things to say and reveal about themselves.

*Deepa Punjani is the Editor of this website.

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