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Posted at: Apr 15, 2018, 1:08 AM; last updated: Apr 15, 2018, 1:08 AM (IST)DARKER SHADES OF WOMEN

Amritsar-based group stages Balwant Gargi’s ‘Saukan’

Aparna Banerji

Tribune News Service

Jalandhar, April 14

“Utton har cheez pavittar hai par andar zeher bhareya peya hai, main tan bare ghar vekhe ne, har vehre ch kise bhairi rooh da vaas hai….” — one eunuch to another in a village courtyard.

“Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned,” and if you’re the Luna-esque, son-craving, daughter-in-law-jealous kind of woman –all the better. Balwant Gargi’s classic ‘Saukan’ was staged in Jalandhar as the second production to hit citizens with Avant Garde Theatre during the ongoing KL Saigal Punjabi Theatre Festival.

While ‘Saukan’, anyways, isn’t based on a premise for the light hearted, the play directed by Amritsar-based Emmanuel Singh took the intensity and complex confrontational play a notch higher with the play’s treatment laced with innuendo, tension and suggestiveness from the word go.

From the son’s ceremonial bath on stage to the “faffekutniyan” (eunuchs) lying on stage with their legs sprawled in air, the double-meaning, veering-to-explicitness, playful sing song of the eunuchs as they enunciate a galloping black horse’s “tar-tar” – it’s all aimed at building a subconscious seductive tension within the audience, much before the plot begins unfolding.

A mother, an infidel marries her son off – only resolute never to let him live peace, devoured by an irate, incestuous craving and passion for him, threatened by the charms of her daughter-in-law and tormented by the revelation that she might lose him to her new competitor.

A gripping climax, ridden with conflict and rage – which starts as a tug-of-war of establishing supremacy between the two – ends in the death of one. The woman, the witch, finally kills the daughter-in-law.

However, not before she declares dramatically to the squirming, writhing younger woman – when she asks the elder who she really is – “main ohdi maa nahi, mai ohdi bhain, ohdi jamandru sathan- teri saukan.” (I’m not his mother, I’m his sister, his friend from childhood, I’m the other woman – for want of a better word in English).

Samrup Kaur (who plays the Saukan), stands heads and shoulders above the rest of the cast all through with her superlative performance, weighing even above the act of director Emmanuel Singh. The act by the eunuchs is very impressive and pivotal for building up and sustaining the structure of the play – their courtyard gossip is the life of the play.

Saukan’s witch hunt by Jela Ji – (to the chants of “Tatte chimte naal kutto jela ji” (beat her with a hot iron)) is also an impressive sequence.

‘Saukan’ is about the demons that lie hidden in the silent, innocent courtyards of nondescript villages, of the hideous stories women bear untold in their hearts and of the capability consuming passions have to turn monsters of human beings.

‘Saukan’ is also a catharsis and a release for a hypocritical society — a voice to similar emotional battles secretly simmering nameless within many hearts and homes— which only art dares to talk about.

Whether portrayed as the victim or perpetrator, the fact that in Punjabi literature, the varied shades of women – including this one – are being celebrated with aplomb — is a huge triumph. So is Emmanuel’s play. In the rustic Punjabi dialogues coupled with authentic props and costumes — the play is also a reassurance of the hectic work put in by some little known groups to keep alive the theatrical legacy of Punjab.


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