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Half Measures

Wednesday, June 06, 2018
By Deepa Gahlot

Mohan Rakesh's 'Aadhe Adhure', written fifty years ago, is considered a modern Indian classic, and like all masterpieces, is timeless.

Rakesh tore at the holy cow of traditional Indian society – the family. He portrayed a dysfunctional family before the term became trendy. In his play, the family is nuclear – an unhappily married couple and their three disgruntled children. The husband Mahendranath is unemployed, while the wife Savitri is the breadwinner, doing her duty as spouse and mother, but making no effort to hide her anger, bitterness or desire to escape. At a time when cinema and popular literature was putting the ideal housewife on a 'devi' pedestal, Savitri was not apologetic about her relationships with other men.

There have been several productions of this play, but it still has something to convey. Ashok Pandey's new production, staged at the small Jeff Goldberg Studio, places the audience so close to the action taking place in the family's shabby living room, that it feels voyeuristic to witness the raw emotions on display. Komal Chhabria plays Savitri with an air of exhausted resignation, as she returns home after work and finds the house in a mess. The younger daughter, school-going Kinni (Urvazi Kotwal) complains shrilly of being neglected, the son Ashok (Udhav Vij) has dropped out of college and spends the day sleeping or loitering; the oldest daughter, Binni (Saadhika Syal), who had eloped and got married, keeps returning to her parents house, carrying a vague sense of unease that does not allow her to settle in her marital home.

The husband (Ashok Pandey) becomes the target of Savitri's rant, and from their dialogue it is clear that he failed at being the strong, supportive man that she wanted and feels unwanted in the house. The already tense air in the room is made worse by the arrival of Savitri's boss, the creepy Singhania and later a former lover, the charming Jagmohan, followed by Mahendranath's disapproving friend Juneja. Rakesh wrote all the men to be played by the same actor, perhaps to heighten Savitri's suffocation or underline the fact that the men she hopes to depend on, let her down (1968 was perhaps too early for the truly independent woman, who could live by herself).

Inexplicably, the Shiva Tandav Strotram accompanies the opening monologue and wraps up the play, but the young director mostly captured the essence of a difficult play, and got an outstanding performance from Komal Chhabria; the other actors would need to do some catching up.

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