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Ila & Ibsen

By December 24, 2018No Comments

Source : The Tribune

For the past eight years, Ila Arun has been adapting works by the Norwegian playwright. A befitting acknowledgment came recently

Ila Arun’s tryst with Henrik Ibsen began when theatreperson Nissar Allana approached her to do an Ibsen play in Rajasthani. A little unsure at first, she took up the challenge and picked his Lady from the Sea and turned it into Mareechika or mirage. That was 2010 and she has ever since been adapting Ibsen’s plays. Honouring her contribution towards promoting Norwegian culture in India, she was recently conferred the Royal Norwegian Order of Merit.

In Lady from the Sea, the sea was used as a metaphor for a woman’s thirst or desire to express herself. Ila’s Mareechika was set in the deserts of Rajasthan, where one often sees an illusion — that seems like water — caused by the sun’s rays. “In the story, the protagonist Rampyari belongs to Jaisalmer and meets a stranger, Samunder Khan, who comes from the border at Bhuj. The local dialect was changed to Marwari and the costumes were cholis, pagris and dhotis,” she says on adapting the play for the Indian audience. While Ila localised its setting, she felt that its narrative, storyline and the questions it addressed were universal and relatable. “It’s hard to imagine that the stories were written 150 years ago for the European society,” she adds.

Since 2014, Ila has been organising an Ibsen Festival. For the first edition, which was first held in Mumbai, she had adapted Peer Gynt into Peer Ghani. The play is set in Kashmir of the 1980s and 1990s. “I felt that the geography of the state was somewhat similar to that of Norway,” she says. The plot, which focuses on the relationship between a mother and her son, highlights subjects such as drug peddling and child trafficking. The original was an eight-hour dramatic Norwegian poem, and the challenge for Ila was to give her adaptation rhyming dialogues. Needless to say, she cracked it.

Ibsen’s themes challenge societal norms, ignorance and taboos. Even though his plays were written over a hundred years ago, the issues they highlight are still relevant. “India is a vast country. Even though there has been a lot of change, it has mostly been in metros like Delhi and Mumbai. In small villages and towns, there still prevail issues like dowry, bride burning and child marriages,” she says. “Indian society needs strong women who can raise their voices,” she believes.

Ila, who hails from Rajasthan, has chosen the state in all its vividity as a setting for many of her adaptations. Ibsen’s Ghost, which she named Peechha Karti Parchhaiyaan, was set in its forts and palaces. “It challenges faith and customs, and its primary message is that our traditions and taboos are like shadows or ghosts following us,” she explains.

In September, Ila was invited to the Ibsen Conference in his hometown of Skien, where she presented a paper on the power of Ibsen’s words. Last year, she was also invited to share her experiences at the Lillehammer Literature Festival in Norway. It happened to be the 150th year of the performance of Peer Gynt and Ila shared stage space with one of the most famous Ibsen actors, Kare Conradi.

Ila’s upcoming production is Hedda Gabler, which will be adapted as Hardeep Kaur Gill. A popular play in Norway, it highlights the psychological problems of today’s young generation who have high ambitions, communicate little and are forced to take wrong steps.

“I see many Heddas around me every day. They are not mature, do not want to talk about their problems and are very fragile,” she says. A story of our very own Punjab?

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