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Ibsen’s Rajasthan connect

By November 23, 2018No Comments

Source : The Hindu   –    Deepa Gahlot

Ila Arun has adapted so many of the playwright’s works that she was recently honoured with the Royal Norwegian Order of Merit

la Arun’s life is a whirlwind of plays, films and music concerts. She returned from Hyderabad after a performance of Namaste , and was off to her native city, Jaipur. In between, at an evening suffused with the warmth of her family, friends and members of her theatre group Surnai, she received the Royal Norwegian Order of Merit, Knight 1st class, from Norwegian Consul General, Ann Ollestad, for her work in strengthening Indo-Norwegian cultural ties through her Ibsen Festivals in Mumbai and her adaptations of the Norwegian master’s plays. (Not much known is the fact that she also did a play ‘Death Variations’ by contemporary Norwegian playwright, Jon Fosse).

The date June 11, 1982 is one that she remembers with pride; this was when she established her group Surnai, with constant collaborator KK Raina, and others like Vijay Kashyap, Ravi Jhankal, Anjula Bedi, who are still associated with it.

Women centric

Her Indian adaptations of some of the plays of Henrik Ibsen, have given her the opportunity to give voice to issues that concern women. “All my plays are centered around women — right from Riyaaz and Jameelabai Kalali. Ibsen gave me the right words to express myself.”

Her journey with Ibsen began when Nissar Allana (Delhi theatre person), who had been doing Ibsen plays, approached her in 2010, with the idea ‘Ibsen in Tradition.’ “He wanted to invite women directors, who are involved with traditions, like I am with Rajasthani folk,” she says, “To be honest, I had not read much Ibsen at that point, except A Doll’s House . I wondered what he meant by tradition, and when a director like KK Raina was sitting there, why was Nissar asking me and not him to direct? He said tradition was my forte and that I must do a Ibsen play in the Rajasthani tradition. It seemed daunting, and I wanted KK to be my co-director.”

Then began her serious study of Ibsen’s plays. She picked Lady From The Sea , called Mareechhika, and set it in the deserts of Rajasthan. “When I started work on the adaptation, my familiarity with the landscape, people and music of Rajasthan came in handy. The heroine, Rampyari, falls in love with a sailor, but is forced to marry a much older doctor, and in the end, she has to choose. There are parts of Rajasthan bordering Gujarat, and the sea is nearby, so it was not impossible for her to meet a sailor. The doctor became a vaid, his mountain abode was Mount Abu and her tendency to bathe in the sea was convincingly set in the bawdis or step wells. To depict her swimming, I used the ghoomar dance. I used the folk style of storytelling. It was creatively a satisfying experience for me.”

Ibsen adaptations

Ila not only began to do more Ibsen adaptations, but also held a festival of his works by other groups. “Ibsen is popular in Maharashtra, Bengal and Kerala. A Doll’s House must have been done thousands of times in Indian languages. I didGhosts as ‘Peechha Karti Parchhaiyan’, and set it within the palaces of Rajasthan. It was a play about the sufferings of the Rajasthani women and it doesn’t seem borrowed. I made it my own, there’s my anger in it.”

The most difficult adaptation was Peer Gynt , a five-act play in verse, which Arun set in Kashmir, because of the similarity of the snow clad mountain locations and the fairy tales woven into it.

Her next Ibsen production will be ‘Hedda Gabler’, or ‘Hardeep Kaur Gill’, which she intends to set against an army backdrop in Pune and the Punjabi settlements in Mumbai. “I see Hedda as a girl of today, headstrong and ambitious. I am giving the finishing touches to it.”

Meanwhile Ilarecently co-directed with KK Raina, American playwright Tammy Ryan’s ‘Baby’s Blues’, about post-partum depression, a subject not often talked about, leave aside put on stage. “I would have liked to adapt it, but the playwright did not want any changes. So I did the play in English, with actors from the English stage (Dilnaz Irani, Meher Acharia-Dar, Ankur Rathee, Joy Sengupta) because, for me, it was important to address the issue. There is also another reason for doing an English play — the spaces and audiences for Hindi plays are shrinking. I do a play like ‘Shabdleela’ on the works of Dharmvir Bharti, to try and preserve great works of Hindi literature, but it’s a problem to get dates to perform it in Mumbai.”

Her daughter Ishitta Arun, founded her own theatre group Ikigai and did her first production ‘Gaa Re Maa’ earlier this month. “What can I say,” laughs the proud mother, “today’s generation wants to do their own thing. Ishitta wanted to do plays of different genres and she had the energy to organise everything. She says, she wants to do plays with more masti , not just thought-provoking like mine.”

Finally, what is it that has kept her working with KK Raina for 35 years? “ Unlike other NSD people, he does not have a false ego. He never asks why I get the attention when we work together — it’s not that I seek it deliberately. We do get offers to work with other people, but ours is a good combination, we work well together and it is partnership of trust and inspiration.”

The writer is a Mumbai-based critic and columnist

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