Reflections: Broken Images starring Shabana Azmi

Broken Images was held in Tata Theatre (NCPA) with the audience comprising of ├╝ber rich and the rest like me. Tata Theatre is like an auditorium with, obviously, ultra clean interiors and ambiance. The seating space though wasn't too comfortable for reasonably taller people. My first experience there was attending a performance by Hip Hop Shakespeare and was one of a kind.

The play was akin to a monologue and an hour long. Manjula (the protagonist) has suddenly become very famous after writing a novel in English while throughout her life she was a Hindi writer. Her own reflection on the television, after an interview, starts questioning
her about life, writings and her past. Things unravel slowly revealing her crippled twin sister, her friend who later wasn't on good terms with her and Manjula's husband, who also had a platonic relationship with Malini (Manjula's twin sister).

Before dying, Malini left a completed typescript of a novel for Manjula's husband. Manjula came across the script and discovers how poorly she had been portrayed by her own sister through one of the characters in the novel. She resents it but likes the novel, for it was beautifully written. She sends it to a publisher claiming it to be her own and the novel becomes a huge hit in India, Britain and the US. Amongst the various layers of emotions and complexities, towards the end Manjula confesses to have stolen the script to her alter-image to whom she has been talking all the while. And then she starts laughing proclaiming that she has been finally successful. But her alter-image confronts her by saying that in fact it is Malini who has succeeded because she could prove to Manjula that she (Manjula) after all wasn't the one being projected by her own-self to the outside world. This makes Manjula utter a loud and wild cry of despair at her image being broken and then the image gains a different persona altogether and reveals that all the while it wasn't her image to whom Manjula was speaking, but was Malini herself. And the curtains draw to a close.

It was by far the best performance in a play I have seen till date. It leaves you shaken and stirred even hours after it has ended. Then came on to the stage Alyque Padamsee and Raell Padamsee with Shabana Azmi. Alyque and Shabana regaled us with humorous anecdotes about performing this play across the United States and India - once in Rohtak the organizer came to Mrs. Shabana and told her that only a fifth of the audience understands English leaving her flabbergasted but somehow pulled off the play with on the spot Hindi translations on her own! Once in Detroit, she, while going around the television during a particular sequence tipped over the power cord and the television went blank and then she, during the next dialogue, went around again and plugged back the cord (without the audience realizing it wasn't intentional!!). As Alyque correctly praised her, "I have seen excellent performers, but none so superb as Shabana". Mrs. Shabana thanked the audience before the lights went out and confessed that her own sympathies change every time, oscillating between Manjula and Malini, depending on the audience's reaction. (Well, she thanked only because she hadn't come across this particular guy who was wearing hot pink trousers over a black shirt and with trekking shoes and who was all the more annoying because he didn't wash his hands after relieving himself in the loo! And because she probably ignored the loud rock music ringtone of one of the patrons which played for a good ten seconds before that stupid man realized how to put it on silent; and the incessant random coughing that was happening throughout the play and the scores of latecomers who kept pouring in even after the official start).

A play worth remembering but not the experience.

(And just before I was about to post this reflection, Mrs. Shabana tweeted stating she was nervous as a wreck fearing she may forget lines! Whether she was or wasn't, she pulled off a heck of a performance!)


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