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Bombay Gnanam’s latest play, “Saswatham”

Message after much meandering


Scene from Saswatam.

It was like entering a maze.

Bombay Gnanam’s all-woman troupe is back with its latest play ‘Saswatam.’ This time the Mahalakshmi Ladies Drama Group, which made a name for itself by the female members donning the male roles too, has done away with male characters on stage. But since the dialogue makes references to the men, the lacuna is not felt.

‘Saswatam’ inaugurated by Kartik Fine Arts at the Narada Gana Sabha hall recently aims to take a sharp critical look at the economically independent, career minded women of today.

Gnanam (story-dialogue-direction) ,focuses on those who consider themselves liberated but whose obsession with being successful and independent makes them highly arrogant. After more than two and a half hours of meandering through many lanes it finally comes up with the message that though you may chase the goals of liberation and economic independence, it is finally love that is the most precious and fulfilling quality! Anything new?

The way it went about conveying the message was tortuous. It was like entering a maze in which there were unbelievably quick tempered and eccentric women. Gnanam may often pack her plays with words but she is a talented writer who is generally focussed. Here she spends too much time in coming to the message and in making her point. The play could have been pruned by a good three quarters of an hour.

The three main characters are a middle aged woman Anandi – as aggressive as a female panther – who believes that the modern educated employed woman has it all going for her and should not bow down to men in any way. “It is now our turn,” she says with an awful triumphant emphasis. Her smart, well turned out daughter Deepthi’s 500th search on the net ends in her wedding but not before her mother puts forth conditions to her in-laws that they should have no expectations that the couple will have children.

The elderly Meena (housekeeper? factotum? who knows? It is most mystifying) lives with the mother–daughter duo and is free with her comments and suggestions, solicited or otherwise. Adding to the confusion is a band of eccentric women who want the apartment block to be men free!

A frequent visitor is Deepthi’s friend Chitra, who announces that she is marrying a rich educated boy in a village and will settle down there. Anandi is aghast at the decision and makes the most offensive remarks about rural life. But then there is a dark secret in Deepthi’s life. This leads to the issue of surrogacy and Anandi becoming a surrogate mother for her daughter’s child! And Anandi has a past.

The play had patches of much tedium. The issues, the hang-ups, the pride and the perceptions of a section of modern women, the rural versus the urban, the individualistic and the selfish against the generous and altruistic, were all wound up in 100 kg wool of words.

The sets were the scene stealers. The three dimensional effect of a spacious living room with views of apartment dwellers passing to and fro was well-created. Usha Stage Vijayakumar and Mohan Babu deserved the applause. Lights were by Artistic Ravi and audio by Guha Prasad.

Pooja made a smart and attractive Deepthi and put in a fine performance while Suchitra as her mother made for the convincing unhappy shrew she was meant to be. It was surprising why so much space and dialogue were devoted to Kamala, who played Meena. She needs to perfect delivering her lines and to gesture naturally. The mobile laundry woman who brings enlightenment about the need for children was a caricature.

In the end, the tough as nails Anandhi is reduced to jelly, shaking with sobs as she is asked whether she would like to be the mother to dozens of disadvantaged children. A long video interview talks of the laudable work of Chitra (Netra) in taking care of these children. Gnanam puts in a mellow cameo in the end as the elderly rural woman. Malathi as Dr. Krishnaveni who talks about surrogate motherhood fitted the role.

Though the dialogue was good, the play needed to be streamlined. The portions where suspense was built up showed Gnanam’s acumen in direction. Costumes too were suitable and well chosen. The play was well rehearsed. But one has seen better plays from Gnanam.

  1. Prof T.K.Srinivasan
    August 12, 2011 at 6:02 pm

    I have differed with Kauslalya Santhanam’s Reviews on several occasions before.But this review of hers is in total agreement with my own view!Yes it makes one wonder as to what is the relationship of the family with Meena, who is very vociferous and jumps at every opportunity to talk! Yes, the play which indeed has good points like the present unhealthy trend of educated, well employed and liberated woman, surrogacy and pure love fails to click on account of the tedium created by its length, which, as Kausalya Santhanam says could be snipped by half an hour!

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