The stage was set, for the opening act of the year-long commemoration of the birth centenary of renowned playwright and founder of Department of Indian Theatre, Panjab University. Kanak Di Balli (stalk of wheat) was on centre stage, and the Balwant Gargi Open Air Theatre, Panjab University was resonating with the sounds of live music, dialogues, a play of emotions and subtle lighting, bringing life to the stillness of the October evening.
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Directed by Prof Rani Balbir Kaur, the play is a Folk Theatre Workshop’s production under the patronage of the department, and is the first in the series of events planned for the centenary. The play was written by Gargi in 1955, and like most of his works, presents the dark picture of Punjab’s rural areas, oppression of the poor and women by the landlords, the poverty, illiteracy…”nothing much has changed even after so many years. I read the play when I was very young; at that time I thought it was a very romantic play. But now, as I read it after decades, it haunted me. The play reflects what we are facing right now in society, the class and caste system, and how it continues to kill love, equality, human spirit and the basic rights of a human being and how beauty in every form is destroyed by the powerful,” explains Kaur, who has added her own sub-text to the play, and created nostalgia with live music and old songs.
Kaur says though she worked on the script, she did not shift it to modern times, for the story of a young girl, with dreams of finding love, being married, raising children is shattered when she is sold off and to escape a future that is only filled with pain and violence, jumps into a well. The design of the play has been done by Mahendra Kumar, and Kaur says that the use of black, beige, grey is in line with the context of the story, its grim and dark truths.
“My vision has been translated, as the play is a departure from the Punjabi idiom. And during the course I realize that Punjabi is my language of creativity. It ignites my mind and I hope the audience can connect to Gargi’s reflections, characters, intricacies of relationships and the complex social fabric,” reflects Kaur.
The play will be staged at the Department over the next few months.