Rani Lakshmi Bai takes centre stage in Theatre Nisha’s newest one-woman play.
Strong or weak, a devi or mortal, women have been the topic of discussion for a while now. And though V Balakrishnan of Theatre Nisha states that he didn’t pen his new play with these debates in mind, we can’t help but think how the theme of his latest, on the Rani of Jhansi, is just right for the current milieu. “Gallantly Fought the Queen is my eighth one-woman play, and not all of my characters have been strong women (like Mata Hari),” begins the director. “But they are all women who lived their lives on their own terms, which is what I want to highlight,” he elaborates. To be staged as part of World Theatre Day (March 27), Rani Lakshmi Bai will be played by Meera Sitaraman.
Taking a stand
As always, Balakrishnan’s research is impeccable. “There is a lot of literature on her, but much of it borders on fiction—from comics to books for children. I wanted documented information like letters or memoirs from that time. My research led me to The Ranee of Jhansi by DV Tahmankar and the popular The Queen of Jhansi by Mahasweta Devi, on which I’ve based the chronological sequence of events,” he shares. The play begins in 1853, when Lord Dalhousie evokes the doctrine of lapse to take her kingdom away, and then follows the four big battles—of Orcha, Jhansi, Kalpi and Gwalior, where she became the rallying point for those seeking freedom. “We wanted to do something that, while catering to our belief in storytelling, also affords dramatic conflict. So Meera sings, dances, narrates and even does sword play,” he says, adding that the poetry of Subhadra Kumari Chauhan and verses from Lakshmi Bai Raso (describing the Orcha battle) have been juxtaposed with the narration.
The good fight
For Sitaraman, the role was a challenge. But, at the end of the day, she says it is just about a young woman trying to define what is best for her, her son and her kingdom. “I can’t get into her shoes, but no matter what the era, the most basic human conflicts are the same,” says the actress, sharing how, besides getting her lines and emotions right, she had to perfect the warrior’s moves. “I trained a lot, with Bala and two martial arts trainers, to get my sword play right. Every day at 5 am, I’d pick up the sword and do 1,000 cuts. I can’t look sloppy on stage,” she laughs. And as it’s a World Theatre Day production, we ask Balakrishnan about where he sees theatre heading. “Rather than the craft being celebrated, we are more into selling it. But then, theatre is an organic craft and it will find a way to survive, to re-invent itself and re-enter our lives,” he concludes.
March 26-27, at Alliance Francaise, at 3 pm and 7 pm. Rs 200. Details: eventjini.com
—Surya Praphulla Kumar