The pangs within
The Sohaila Kapur-directed Bebe Ka Chamba illustrates the lives of seven women, confined within the four walls of the house during the Partition, set in 1948. She tells Shrabasti Mallik that she had to retell the stories of the Partition to the actors for them to identify with the characters
It was the gruesome, most conflicting time that India has ever seen. While people were suddenly being uprooted from the land they called they called home and were forced to migrate to a newly formed Pakistan, the event was being engraved in the pages of history as the Partition.
Lives were lost and so was dignity, and it is in this backdrop that Sohaila Kapur directed play, Bebe Ka Chamba is set. But the plot, although set in India, has its roots in the Spanish play The House of Bernarda Alba by Federico Garcia Lorca — a potent study of six women in mourning who are not allowed contact with the outside world. Though the play was written in 1945, Bebe Ka Chamba is set in 1948 and explores the themes of insecurity, seclusion, sexual repression and the impact of the absence of men, on nubile women.
According to the director, the rituals and culture of Spain fitted that of rural India, especially North India. “I conceptualised an adaptation of the play in 2013. Since I am Punjabi, It was easier to place it in rural Punjab. I had heard partition stories from my parents and senior relative,” she said.
The play opens with a day of mourning at Bebe’s house. She has lost her husband and land to Partition. Left with only a house and a stable, Bebe, the protective family matriarch, instructs her four nubile daughters to remain housebound for an unknown amount of time. The eldest daughter can only talk to her fiancé through the window. The other sisters are jealous, they have no contact with the outside world, and no hope therefore of finding a partner.
As the heat within the four walls increases, so does the sexual frustration of the girls who are forbidden contact with men. The turmoil created by the partition transforms into the turmoil within, as the young women battle seclusion, subjugation, rising sexual desires and a longing for freedom.
Since most of her actors were born after Partition, Kapur had to retell those stories to them. “That helped and so did the character development workshops I held with them,” she said and explained how she re-create that atmosphere where the girls battled their sexual desires and seclusion. “It’s all done with subtle nuances in body language, stances, posture, glances and the tone and pitch of the voice, the relationship between siblings. All this had to be expressed by the actors, who did workshops on this very aspect,” she pointed out, “They were told to imagine a situation in life where they had no outlet for their sexual urges. What would they do then? I have always believed that character development includes aspects of the actors own personality. So these workshops on character development helped.”
Although Bebe Ka Chamba is a period drama, Kapur did not have to delve into much research. “I did but most came from anecdotal references and stories of my parents and their kid.,” she said. To, however, took her two months to get the entire production in place.
The play opened in november 2014 and has been carrying on since it has been invited to theatre festivals and has performed shows in Delhi, Gurgaon, Chandigarh and Kolkata.
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