Her name is Katherina Minola, Renown’d in Padua for her scolding tongue. This is how William Shakespeare introduces the heroine of The Taming of the Shrew, a play that has divided critics about his ideas on patriarchy and feminism. When theatre director Sohaila Kapur staged it recently, as Albeli Naari, it divided the hall on similar lines. The play, which revolves around a man trying to “discipline” his new wife through means ranging from humiliation and manipulation to abuse and violence, had many men at the packed Shri Ram Centre in Delhi applauding. The women, largely, watched silently. Had Kapur expected such a response? “I told my actors that don’t be taken aback if, after the patriarchal speech of Petruchio (protagonist of the play), you get a few claps in the hall,” she says. The play was presented by Three Arts Club, a pre-Independence theatre group in Delhi. Anger mixes with passion when Kapur speaks about the play, and old memories come tumbling out. Excerpts from an interview:
Why The Taming of the Shrew?
It is so politically incorrect that it challenged me. We decided to imagine what it means to have a man trying to subjugate his wife in today’s day and age of active feminism. In the play, the father is in a hurry to get his overaged daughter married. In 17th-century Britain, when you cross 30, you cross the age of marriage. The biggest achievement of a woman was getting a good husband, so families of girls were willing to offer a good dowry to get a good man — so much like today’s India. What is honour killing about? It is all about the subjugation of women.
Why have you placed the play in northern India?
We paced it in Delhi and Haryana. Delhi is a city of immigrants and we get the colours and shades of people from different regions who come to seek employment. The languages in the play are Hindi, Urdu, Haryanvi, Bundelkhandi, a mixture of Bhojpuri and Maithili and a smattering of Punjabi, exactly what you hear in this region.
Have you ever faced patriarchy, given that your elite background provided some insulation?
I wanted to be an actor when I was young. I had the looks, talent and offer. I was told very firmly by my family that the boys could do it — my brother, Shekhar Kapur, went into it in a big way. My father was doctor to the President of India and to almost all the embassy staff in Delhi. On my mother’s side, I am related to the Anands —Dev, Chetan and Vijay — who were ruling Bollywood. I was not allowed although the film was big and starred Rajesh Khanna. I didn’t have the courage. It is so typical of an Indian girl to be told, ‘Apni family ki izzat ka tumhe koi khayal nahi hai?’ Of course, I feel for my family because they feared the casting couch and were protecting me. Those days, “good girls” were hardwired to keep their virginity for their husbands. It is an ogre, this casting couch.
What do you think about the #MeToo movement hitting India?
I have been reading about this with great interest. It would take guts for female actors to come out in the open but they have started doing this. I am happy about it. I spent my youth despising the casting couch for depriving me of the opportunity of pursuing the career of my dreams. I am proud of the girls who have summoned the courage to fight it.