As the preference for a male child, female foeticide, gender discrimination as well as discrimination against People with Disabilities (PwDs) remain rampant, exploring these aspects is a play titled Tara that will be performed in the national capital soon.
Written about 30 years ago by noted English playwright Mahesh Dattani, the story deals with the growing emotional separation of a once-conjoined twins (joined at the hip) — Tara and her brother Chandan — after it was revealed that their mother and grandfather had favoured Chandan when a decision had to be taken to separate them surgically with only three legs between them.
For Divya Arora, who plays high-spirited Tara, “the play fits into my life in unbelievable ways”. Perhaps India’s first actor with cerebral palsy, Arora is also an award-winning actor and filmmaker who has co-directed the play with noted theatreperson Sohaila Kapur.
The play found her, rather than the other way round, Arora, who uses wheelchair, tells indianexpress.com. “I had watched Mahesh’s plays and always wished to work with Sohaila. I have known Mahesh for 16 years and Sohaila for about 13. When she suggested this play, both of us went straight to Mahesh and he readily agreed.”
For Dattani, who first showcased the play in 1989, Tara reflects society’s way of dealing with issues that are often not discussed beyond closed doors. Tara’s evolution in the last 30 years borders on how issues like disability have come to the fore. “Initially, the play was a metaphor of gender discrimination. It has now got a renewed life with disability and gender becoming such strong resonance factors,” he states.
“Whether 1989 or 2019, societal perceptions on gender continue to stay put and that is what makes the play relevant even now,” comments Dattani, who came up with the idea of Siamese twins of different genders (which is medically not possible) while browsing through a medical journal at a doctor’s clinic.
“If an English theoretical physicist and author Stephen Hawking could accomplish so much on a wheelchair, then if Tara was let to survive and live, she could have had done so many things. The play attempts to portray different emotions that such a complex relationship endures for families, between siblings and the entire societal set-up,” he added.
Arora, who is mostly known for romantic comedies and light-hearted productions on stage, is excited and nervous at the same time when it comes to Tara. “I consider myself a method actor where I have to relate with my characters. Since I have always played light-hearted characters, I had to prepare a lot in terms of enacting the different emotions — turmoil, anger, frustration and moments of joy that Tara feels,” she shares.
“Tara can be any and every girl who is living a life with special needs. It is a message to society, parents or friends and siblings that differentiation based on gender, ability or any shortcoming that the person has to live with is not right. It is not the person’s choice to make, but the support if lent at the right time could help effect a change for the better,” Arora tells indianexpress.com.
Arora, who is also a poet, translator, musician, lyricist and painter, is amused that she continues to receive stares and nasty comments from many. “Physical disability is a social stigma. People tend to stare at you as if you are the tenth wonder. I am not an alien. I am just designed differently. While a lot is being done to popularise labels and terms like ‘divyang’ and differently abled, just glorifying labels doesn’t help the cause. Society’s attitude is what makes a difference,” asserts Arora.
Kapur and Arora’s collaboration for the play has led them to form a venture, Divine Star Entertainment, to be launched on December 3, The International Day of Disabled Persons 2019. “I breathe theatre, and so does Sohaila. I think theatre is a powerful medium for social change and must receive its due share and should not be driven by Bollywood stars alone,” says Arora.
Kapur chips in, “What matters is how many lives you have touched and how much the audience connects to the emotions you are portraying on stage and that is where our philosophy about life merges as well.”
For Kapur, who was extremely moved by the play in the 1990s when she saw it for the first time, its biggest takeaway is the “pure interplay of emotions”. “Can we truly say that we live in a society free of discrimination based on gender or disability? The strong character of Tara and the interplay of the other six characters around her is a powerful statement in itself,” she points out.
The one hour 40 mins play will commence at 7.30 pm on September 7-8 at The Stein Auditorium, India Habitat Centre (IHC), Lodhi Road. Tickets available for Rs 200, Rs 350 and Rs 500 at BookMyShow and at the Programmes Desk, Habitat World, IHC.