Drama of Real Life


Delhi Ibsen Festival enters its fifth and final year with seven productions from India and abroad

When Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen first staged his play A Doll's House in the late 19th century, everybody who watched it was shaken, stirred or plain scared.

The storyline — in which the protagonist, Nora, walks out on her husband and children to live on her own — rattled every pillar of the institution of marriage in Europe (and gave feminists a poster boy in Ibsen). As the annual Delhi Ibsen festival enters its fifth and final year, Nora metamorphoses as the wealthy Tehmina Murad in a Pakistani version of the play called Gurrya ka Ghar.

"Pakistan is still a male-dominated society and one of the most suppressed sections is that of the women," says Sheema Kirmani of the group, Tehrik-e-Niswan. Tehmina is associated with an NGO where she meets Shakina, a working-class girl who has fled an abusive husband. It is during conversations with Shakina that Tehmina realises that missing ingredient in her life — liberation. "Through Shakina, we introduced a class angle in the play, so as to provide a better portrayal of the Pakistani society," says Kirmani.

The Delhi Ibsen Festival, organised by the Norwegian embassy and Delhi-based organisation Dramatic Art and Design Academy, offers a mix of seven Indian and world productions. Talking about "the different Ibsens" at the festival, curator Nissar Allana says that the plays are connected by a sociopolitical theme. "People in India will connect with an adaptation of Enemy of the People by Manipuri group Kalakshetra Manipur," says Allana, about the play where corruption in high places and public apathy turn the protagonist, a good doctor, into a villain.

The Master Builder, presented by Kolkata-based Padatik, on the other hand, talks about a man who, having exploited others — particularly women — all his life, is now driven to destruction by a rebounding female energy. Allana, who has sat in on rehearsals of the Uzbek adaptation of Ghosts, appears impressed by the "highly intense physical movements and use of body" in the play. The storyline, where the protagonist, having suffered her philandering husband till his death, discovers that her son has fallen in love with a woman who turns out to be his half-sister.

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