‘Without politicising their ideologies, when one looks closely at any icon, be it Gandhi, Savarkar, Ambedkar or Mahatma Phule, one realises the role played by their wives, Kasturba, Yamunabai, Ramabai and Savitri Phule, respectively. I believe that a woman’s sacrifice is equally reverential even if history does not attribute greatness to her. It is like admiring the peak of Mount Everest without realising that it stands on a strong base,” says actor Aparna Chothe, who is drawing attention to the three important women of the V D Savarkar household — Yashodabai, Yamunabai and Shantabai — during a critical phase in India’s history through a play, Tya Tighi.
“Behind every successful man there is a woman. In our patriarchal society, a man’s success or struggle has always been appreciated but what about the woman, who may be the mother, sister, wife or lover, who stands behind him like a rock? To her, society gives negligible importance,” she adds. In Tya Tighi, Chothe takes up the challenge of playing all three women to highlight their individual qualities as well as their combined struggles. Over half-dozen shows in Pune, the solo has matured and become layered. With a performance in Thane on October 1, Chothe flags off her attempts to take the story across Maharashtra. Excerpts from a conversation with her:
What inspired you to create a play based on the three Savarkar women?
Reading is one of my hobbies and that’s how I came across the novel Tya Tighi, written by Dr Shubha Sathe. It was based on women from freedom fighter Swatantryaveer Savarkar’s family. After reading, I felt that there is a story of hidden battle and sacrifice by all the three Savarkar women. The freedom struggle of the Savarkar brothers — Ganesh Damodar Savarkar, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar and Narayan Damodar Savarkar — is by now well-known, but the sacrifices and struggles of their wives — Yashodabai, Yamunabai and Shantabai Savarkar — respectively, on personal and freedom fronts, are not. It seemed important that their story be told, that the younger generation and, in fact, every Indian, be made aware of it. With this intent, I decided to make a play based on the three Savarkar women.
What did you learn of the three women in your research?
An arduous or strenuous life is the fate of many, but what makes the three ladies stand out is their manner and mode of leading such a life. They were lively and cheerful with exalted thought-processes even while having to drink the poison of misery, grief, distress and pain. Their patriotism was firm. These three ladies, in spite of having to suffer the anguish of separation from their husbands, starvation and hunger, carried on their husbands’ struggles for freedom. They knew that their husbands had taken up the oath to serve the country so they handled the family, supported each other and played their part in the battle for freedom.
How have you plotted the narrative?
Tya Tighi is an 80-minute solo performance, where I have enacted the role of the three sisters-in-law based on instances from their lives. The eldest couple, Yashodabai and Ganesh Savarkar, despite being uneducated themselves, raised the motherless younger brothers as their own children. They helped Vinayak become a barrister and Narayanrao a doctor. While Ganesh and Vinayak Savarkar was serving out the life imprisonment at Andaman’s Cellular Jail, their wives faced daily hardships with frequent police raids at their house. Even Shantabai agreed to marry the youngest brother, Naranyanrao when she knew that the two elder brothers were imprisoned for their nationalist activities. Though these ladies were abandoned by their relatives, still they could manage to survive a century ago, when women could not step outside the house to earn a living.
What processes do you use to depict the three women at once on stage?
There was a great challenge in portraying all three great ladies as a solo performance. I wanted to ensure that each role is portrayed with the right passion and conviction of character so that audiences can understand each Savarkar woman in the right spirit. I studied small features and characteristics and made slight changes in costume, make-up and voice modulation to differentiate the characters.
Even a solo play is not an individual effort. Who are the others who form the base of this production?
This play is under the banner of Abhivyakta Pune. My team has uplifted me with huge support. Director Ajinkya Bhosale, music director of the play Ajit Vispute and costume and set designer Ashwini Joshi have made this play possible. The studio work is by Chaitanya Kulkarni and lights by Sanket Parkhe. Without my family’s support, I couldn’t have done it. Fortunately, my mother belongs to the Savarkar family’s original place, Bhagur in Nashik. There is a strong emotional connection from my maternal side with the place, which helped me create this production.