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A conflicting self-image

DNBAN25804 | 6/4/2010 | Author : Shruti Goutham | WC :790 | Art & Culture

Alyque Padamsee and Shabana Azmi promise to set the stage on fire with their version of Girish Karnad’s celebrated play A Heap Of Broken Images, says Shruti Goutham

Alyque Padamsee, who is directing Shabana Azmi in Broken Images, his interpretation of the celebrated Kannada play Odakalu Bimba written by Girish Karnad in 2005, says he sees the play as a study of himself and the audience.
This one-act, one-woman play has been directed by many well-known theatre-directors and staged in many languages across India, and now Padamsee is bringing his interpretation to Bangalore’s audience courtesy India Foundation for the Arts.
Padamsee saw the Hindi version of the play, titled Bikhre Bimb, a few years ago. In that, actor Arundhati Nag plays the protagonist, Manjula, an obscure Kannada writer who suddenly catapults to fame with her maiden English novel. As the play progresses, the audience is made aware that the protagonist unethically took credit for the story written by Malini, her crippled sister after her death. The storyline thereafter explores conflicts in Manjula’s conscience.
A few months ago, Padamsee decided to revisit this complex play. “When I watched Bikhre Bimb, I was gripped by the multiple layers of the play,” he says. He defines Broken Images as “a psychological thriller that rips the mask off a celebrity.”
“Being a celebrity myself, I am conscious of the fact that there is a TV image of me that my admirers know of. But, I find myself asking if that is indeed my true self,” says the director. Karnad, he says, “has scripted this dilemma brilliantly .”
After consultation with Karnad, Padamsee took the liberty of slightly altering the play. Firstly, Manjula, the protagonist in the original play is a Kannada writer, but Padamsee, having chosen Shabana Azmi to play the lead role in his production, decided to change her into a Hindi writer.
“Once I decided to direct this play, I called Karnad and told him that I didn’t agree with the conclusion that he’d written. Karnad readily obliged saying, ‘Alyque, years ago, you directed Tughlaq (another popular play written by Karnad) and you changed the beginning, and it fit in beautifully. I trust you to do the same with this one,’” says Padamsee.
“In this single-act play, Azmi plays the devious elder sister, Manjula as well as the younger sibling Malini, who appears on the TV screen. Nag portrayed both these roles with a tint of humour, whereas Azmi has brought out the sarcasm in the story,” says Padamsee. “We’ve also used a younger version of Azmi in the video image to portray Malini, while both the characters looked identical when Nag enacted the play years ago,” says the director talking about the improvisations he’s brought about.
Speaking about the two characters she dons in this play, Shabana Azmi says, “There are both similarities and differences between the two sisters. Till the end you really don’t know whether the image on the TV screen is Manjula’s younger sister Malini, or is she a figment of Manjula’s imagination or merely Manjula’s conscience.”  Outlining the contrast in the two characters, Azmi says, “I’ve portrayed the younger sister as a more confident, vivacious woman who speaks better English. Manjula, on the other hand,  carries an air of confidence, but is in fact vulnerable and weak.”
Karnad’s play also dwells on yet another predicament that confronts us today — local language vs the global lingua franca, English. The play hinges on the assumption that a novel in English is more likely to garner a larger readership in comparison to one written in the vernacular. “While Manjula’s numerous works in Hindi have hardly gained traction, her first English novel becomes a hit. Isn’t that a truth that Indian writers have had to accept?” asks Padamsee.
“Karnad being an admired Kannada writer himself understands this and has brought out the limitations of this system in his play,” says Padamsee. In India, he says, “some argue that the English language is a colonial hang-up. But, English is on the world stage. It’s the language of science and of intellectual ideas. It’s hard to fight that.”
Though Azmi has just begun to recover from an ankle injury and is walking with a limp, the actor is glad to perform Broken Images in Bangalore, writer Karnad’s home town. With no co-actors to share the stage with her, this play has been a challenge as well as an enriching experience for Azmi, whose theatrical performances have not only stunned Indian audience but also captivated audience abroad.
“Broken Images is very different from anything I’ve done before. I have done Nora and Betrayal for the Singapore Repertory theatre with very fine Broadway actors and The Waiting Room for The National Theatre in London, but here I’m on my own with no co-actors to bail me out if I make a mistake… it’s terrifying but challenging,” says the veteran actor.

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