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Strike Force

Gazab Teri Ada is bursting with music, dance and colour but, under the brightness, it is an unsettling parable about wars and women power

Scenes from Gazab Teri Ada, a tribute to World War I during its centenary
Scenes from Gazab Teri Ada, a tribute to World War I during its centenary

After 99 battles, every king would want one more. The Maharaja in Gazab Teri Ada, director Waman Kendre’s new play performed by the National School of Drama Repertory Company, gets his wish but this one ends differently. The spoils of war — 21,000 girls from the enemy kingdom — are dragged before the king in chains and their wails pierce the hearts of the women in the kingdom. How can the wives who have always obeyed, now protest — they could stop cooking or talking or would they need a more drastic weapon?

Kendre says that the Greek comedy Lysistrata had fascinated him since he came across it as a student of the National School of Drama (NSD) around 30 years ago. Given that he searches for stories in the margins of society — Zulva revolved around devadasis and Jaaneman was about the life of eunuchs — Kendre’s fascination with Lysistrata is not surprising. Here, a group of women — dressed beautifully as patriarchy’s dolls should — subvert sexual politics to assert their will. They decide not to sleep with their husbands until they promise never to fight again. Kendre explored this story in No Sex Please last year but Gazab Teri Ada is a more thorny road.

In this 1.40 hour play, Lysistrata becomes the outer casing. Kendre’s areas of interest are in boldface — from sex workers with their boisterous laughter to the dances that are folksy and frequent, from the soldiers who smile at the thought of the war to the king’s grin that sparkles brighter than his clothes, from the non-realistic, exaggerated movements to the dialogues, in which the Hindi grammar is broken by replacing masculine words with streeling (feminine) references. “In various rural dialects in the country, women often speak like men. While speaking, gender dignity shatters,” says the director’s note. Music is one of the lead characters and performed live, which brings a raw flavour to the production.

Gazab Teri Ada is the director’s tribute to World War I in its centenary year. It is when the king wants to see the war on the alaukik yantra that the play climbs another level. The dark backdrop brightens into a screen on which play footage of wars past and present — soldiers loading cannons in Vietnam, Iraq, Palestine, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka — relocating Gazab Teri Ada in every century. Technically, the screen merges into the backdrop and does not interfere with the live acting. (Few things kill a play more than a blank screen on a stage). Metaphorically, the screen recalls Sanjay who recounts the events of the Mahabharata to the blind Dhritirashtra through his divine vision, though Kendre probably intends it to show how television dramatises wars.

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Another witty innovation is the use of bells to rival the sword. These bells tinkle, chime and clang depending on the mood, as the play balances message with humour.

When a character says, “Aaj kehti hai yudh chhod do, kal kahegi, duniya chhod do,” the spirit of the Bollywood film Devdas rises amid the hot air of war.

It would be unreal if the violence of war did not spill into homes of the soldiers but Gazab Teri Ada ends happily — or does it? Your answer depends on which subtext you have been following.

The play will be staged at Abhimanch, NSD, till today. Entry: Rs 50-200. Contact: 23383420