They are part of the cast of Safdar Hashmi's play Aurat staged by Theatre for Change
Safdar Hashmi's play Aurat, a commentary on patriarchy, was first staged in 1970, but remains relevant even five decades later. On International Women's Day, celebrated on March 8, the Bengaluru-based Theatre for Change will be staging their version of Aurat.
What makes iteration of the play different is their decision to cast members from the Bilal Bagh community. Bilal Bagh in Bengaluru, and notably its women residents, made national headlines in early 2020, for their protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). It eventually came to be known as the Shaheen Bagh of the South.
Sujatha Balakrishnan, one of the directors of Aurat, said her decision to work with the women from Bilal Bagh stemmed from her firsthand experience of seeing them in action during the anti-CAA protests. “They were just amazing out there. I immediately thought I should do our next production for Women's Day with them,” she said.
It proved to be an eye-opener for Ms. Balakrishnan. “Working with them showed me they enjoy far more freedom than many women from ‘privileged classes',” she said. She added that the experience has only strengthened her belief that it is a lack of opportunity that holds people down. Theatre cannot be the privilege of a particular class, she said.
The usual trajectory of a girl's life — childhood, higher education and marriage — form the premise of Aurat. “We wanted it to be a multi-lingual effort. So, each act will be performed in a different language,” she added.
The first part of the play, where a girl and her father are discussing the necessity for her to go to school, is in Tamil and has been directed by Sujatha. “Alfiya Shaikh, a 10-year-old from Bilal Bagh, is playing the daughter in the first act. I was pleasantly surprised by the way she picked up Tamil to deliver her lines, even though it is not her mother tongue,” she said.
The second act portraying a young girl's fight to study in college is in Hindi, and is directed by Vandana Amit Dugar. The final act depicting her life as a married woman is in Kannada, and has been directed by Sachin Sreenath.
The play touches upon harassment, patriarchy, the toll of childbirth and other everyday problems of women.
Apart from Theatre for Change's rendition of Aurat, actor Urvashi Goverdhan will be reading a few of Maya Angelou's poems. This will be followed by school children from different sections of Bengaluru reciting from an anthology of Safdar Hashmi's work Duniya Sab Ke, which deals with social justice.
(Venue: Lahe Lahe, HAL 2nd Stage, Bengaluru from 6-8 p.m. on March 8. Entry free)