It was an intense evening of theatre as the Madras Players staged Mohan Rakesh's fierce portrait of a marriage, "Aadhe Adhure" or "Halfway House" as it is known in English, at the Museum Theatre recently.
It's part of their 50th anniversary celebrations. They had first staged the play in l975, and Vishalam Ekambaram, the versatile actress who had taken part in the earlier production was among those who were in the audience.
Since Rakesh is most searing in his portraits of the way in which the women in his play are transformed by their circumstances, or to put it very simply by the men in their life, it would have been interesting to know from the veteran actress, how correct he is.
Mohan Rakesh belongs to the quartet of brilliant playwrights Badal Sircar, Vijay Tendulkar and Girish Karnad who pitched their tents on the Indian stage of the 1960s and 1970s and have in effect never left it. He tears at the heart of the middle class with the delicate precision of a surgeon, using words that are perhaps more effective when rendered in Hindi.
A cynical view
If he is lyrical in the play "One day in Ashadha", in which he explores the idea of a poet like Kalidas returning to the person he once loved, who has led him to create a "Shakuntala", in "Aadhe Adhure", he is much more cynical. There is something devastating in the confrontation that takes place in the Juneja figure, the friend from the past, who comes to remind Savitri, the wife, mother and embittered woman who has just been abandoned by yet another of her lovers, what she could have been, than in the earlier play.
In "One Day in Ashadha", the tenderness of love still remains. In "Aadhe Adhure", it is a bleak house that stands in a scorched landscape. Of course, since, there is some kind of resolution in the last few moments, others may look for a more optimistic reading.
What makes Rakesh's portrait of Savitri so gripping is that one is never sure whether he admires her rage to get a grip of her life, or whether he suggests that she has, in the manner of a Greek heroine, devoured her family, one by one. Is Savitri an early feminist icon or does she belong to the pantheon of women who are feared by the patriarchy as being too filled with a lust for life?