Cast: Lillete Dubey, Ira Dubey, Dr. Mohan Agashe, Rajeev Siddhartha & Anuschka Sawhney
At the outset, Lillete Dubey deserves all praise for placing her faith in an intense subject for her debut in Hindi theatre. And that the choice happens to be Mohan Rakesh’s intriguingly insightful “Aadhe Adhure” speaks volumes of her commitment to the cause of meaningful theatre - an art form which is still very much alive, if not kicking as the critics would be keen to point out.
Rakesh’s protagonist Savitri is a victim of an urban dysfunctional family of the late sixties but her trials and tribulations are timeless, albeit some of them may have assumed new forms with time. Following her husband’s financial ruin and the incapability to fulfil even the commonplace desires of her life, she’s drawn to other men in the course of her forced employment. The pull appears to be partly inadvertent and partly intentional. We are never sure whether it’s solely for the family cause or it also has shades of personal gratification as well. Rakesh keeps the audience pondering.
His play also stands out for the unbiased quality of its feminist stance. In unfolding the trauma of Savitri’s life, the story steers clear of overruling perceptions and is highly sensitive to the standpoints of Savitri’s dependents and detractors as well - notably, her meek, loser husband Mahendranath (Dr. Mohan Aagshe), mutinous but crestfallen eldest daughter (Ira Dubey), disillusioned and downcast son (Rajeev Siddhartha) and the youngest teenage daughter (Anushcka Sawhney) turning more dishevelled in the light of the dubious reality around her. While Savitri bears the brunt of the family torment, every member is confronting a vacuum emanating from respective failed dreams and flawed decisions.
Savitri’s despondency (Dubey herself in the lead role) comes alive on stage as it should, save for few fleeting moments where the story seems to lose some of its momentum. Despite her inherent highbrow image, she depicts Savitri’s working class mannerisms, successfully if not effortlessly. But the essence of Mohan Rakesh’s radical geo-modernism (away from the popular but constrained notions of modernism and post-modernism) unfolds chiefly through the superb performance of veteran Dr. Agashe in multiple roles. The psychiatrist in him must have relished the potent case study of family dysfunction that this play unleashes in lyrical form. And Dubey shows remarkable ingenuity in letting him drive the principal message - first as the casual narrator at the very beginning who sets the uncertainty and impermanence of his character as the underlying context for the play and finally as the well meaning family friend Juneja, the only common link between Savitri and Mahendranath, who exposes the dark side of Savitri’s angst while acknowledging the depth of her anguish, only to pave the way for what could possibly reunite husband and wife in a cocoon of measured compromise. That the frail Mahendranath returns home in the concluding scene is no proof of this negotiation, yet it leaves the audience with some wishful cues.
Interspersed in between are Agashe’s fleeting appearances as Savitri’s professional acquaintances - the lecherous Singhania and the frivolous Jagmohan - where he brings out villainous shades of the respective characters providing much comic relief but without diluting the play’s intensity. However, his Hindi intonation leaves glaring traces of his Maharashtrian brahminical roots, a glitch he would like to address in future performances. More so as a whole new world of possibilities now beckons him from the Hindi theatre.
Ira Dubey is picture perfect as the rebellion-affected girl of her times (we can almost imagine a Salwar-suited North Indian girl brought on a generous fare of ‘Sarita’ magazine and pet pastimes of weaving-knitting-embroidery) but she’s unduly theatrical at times. Dubey senior and junior sigh and squeal throughout and the sheer monotony of their rants comes in the way of their credible performances. Rajiv is superb as the lethargic and unemployed Ashok whose non-conformism is yet to confirm anything. But his modern looks don’t seem to be in tune with the times. Anuschka Sawhney looks reasonably believable as the spoilt teenager but the script fails to capture the specifics of her school uniformed exploits. We are repeatedly subjected to ear-splitting scenes of the family admonishing her at regular intervals but the context is blurred. The set design is first rate esp. the clothes line, linen, dry leaves and the battered tap and bucket at the entrance. Maybe a radio blaring a 60’s song could have enhanced the period effect.
Dubey’s interpretation is by and large engaging and more important, largely in line with what the script demands. A wonderful actress relegated to inconsequential roles on the big screen, theatre seems tailor-made for her talent and temperament. Kudos to her and the entire team for the Mohan Rakesh treat!