The process of developing our play

Newsletter Jan – Apr 2009


A year ago when we thought of making this play, the idea was exciting as well as daunting, because the issues of marriage, caste, community, region are so complex and intertwined! Our first challenge was to try and come up with some basic message that we wanted to convey through the play. Two rounds of intense discussion threw up concepts such as ‘honour’, ‘izzat’ the weight of which women always have to uphold. In these early discussions we were clear that the play should communicate some ‘new’ messages and not into the trap of banalities.


Pretty soon, we were fortunate to get the help of some women involved with theatre, and our play practice group got going! On Saturday afternoons, as many of us were around, we got into doing body loosening exercises, voice training exercises, and experimenting with different props and devices that could be used in the play. These were exciting times- using ropes in different ways to communicate power equations, show inclusion and exclusion between groups; using balloons to show the increasing weight of family expectations; using playing cards to represent different social formations. Energies ran high, creativity sometimes ran amuck, but it was great fun and kept the participants looking forward to the next Saturday of the play practice.


One euphoria did not last long! At the end of each Saturday, we thought we were getting somewhere, and got all excited about a concept we had seemingly evolved. However, the next Saturday, when we tried to take it further, we felt stuck again. One of the problems was that the same set of women could not be present for each practice session. The more serious problem was the lack of a script, however sketchy, to give some idea of the context in which something was being tried out and then what it was leading up to. After much effort and literally getting tied up in knots, we managed to arrive at some thought flow, some idea of how the play will proceed.


However, several weeks went by, with the play getting no further due to various other things we needed to attend to. The overwhelming feeling in the group was hum keh kya rahe hain?


A fresh breakthrough occurred when we realised that concepts such as honour were proving too abstract to deal with, and that we did not want to focus on typical tales of victimisation of women. This is when we decided the play should attempt to bring alive the experiences of women of different castes, and communities- experiences as real women with layered lives, hopes, dreams, aspirations... And the core strength of our report was precisely the textured narratives of women of different castes and religions!


So, we decided to call out narratives from our report and flesh them out other dimensions and use monologues as the basic mode of communication. These were to be interspersed with songs, poetry, etc. From here on, it did not take very long for us to prepare the monologues and some songs. However, tying up the narratives and reaching a conclusion was still posing a challenge.


Monologues are the most difficult to deliver, cautioned those well versed in theatre! Would our novice actresses be able to carry them off?? We did worry, but the monologues we had written, and polished over and over, seemed powerful enough to carry through.


One piece of creativity sparked another. Playing with words, in English and Hindi, we arrived at the title KAUN JAAT?, and then we managed to write closing piece, which lifts individual experiences into the frightening reality of the collective.


A fresh worry emerged! Should we end on a negative note or somehow address the ways in which women have broken fresh grounds, as in overturning caste panchayat decisions? This uncertainty kept us from trying out our play on a couple of occasions, until finally, we decided to do a trial run at a conference in Jadavpur, and then for a programme associated with International Women’s Day. Even though we were reading out the monologues at these performances, the response we got was very encouraging, so we have now learnt our lines, and are ready to perform extempore!