Wedding without sheen

Welcome to the wedding of a girl of a Saraswat Brahman family of Dharwar ~ Vidula Nadkarne ~ who as her mother says, “Spent her entire childhood bidding by byes to light bulbs.” And yet she switches off the lights of the cyber café to escape into the embrace of a man with questionable identity, a man online.

Wedding Album, a play in English, written by Girish Karnad and directed by Lillette Dubey (staged at the GD Birla Sabhagar on 23 November) deals with an urban middle-class family: a daughter who lives abroad with her professional husband, a son who is a software designer, a younger daughter willing to marry a suitable boy from the US she has never met, a doting mother and a loyal cook. This is an educated, liberal and modern family. Each snapshot shows its members frozen in an attitude of respectability, yet each figure has a double image with a penumbra of a hidden life. It shows how traditionally a girl married a boy from the neighbouring village. In the globalised village, this ‘neighbourhood’ can be any corner of the earth. In the past, the bridal couple often saw each other for the first time on the wedding podium. Today a million emails, SMSes, phone calls, tapes and scanned images introduce them to each other. Yet one element of the plot remains unchanged: the couple agrees to enter an unknown, uncharted territory ~ each other.

The family looks picture perfect but lurks behind is the dissatisfaction and a desire to run away, to escape the mundane life everybody is leading. A marriage gives all an opportunity to dig on old grouses and when things go out of hand, Vidula screams, “Can’t we pretend and have some laughter out here.” The play oscillates between past and present with people who ‘smile like a toothpaste ad but true tamarind inside.’

Neena Kulkarni plays the ever-nagging wife and mother while Utkarsh Mazumdar, an old piece of furniture in the house who does little but remember his lost brother Ramlal.
Ramlal of whom Mr Nadkerne is so reminiscent about had cheated him of his name on the municipal record of Vidula’s birth shows how miscalculated their family equation had been. While the mother escapes into the kitchen recipes and cushion covers, Radhabai rants to forget about her daughter who met a tragic end. The elder daughter’s love marriage has lost the spark that she tries to rekindle with the amorous letters of a boy even younger than her own son. The son of the family, who loves a Christian girl, settles with a marriage of convenience with a girl of his own caste. With ace actors like Neena Kulkarni, Utkarsh Mazumdar, Suchitra Pillai, Ira Dubey, Rajev Paul, Amar Talwar, Seema Azmi, Dipika Despande, Raaghav Chanana and Arman Sunny, the play was a good show but lacked depth. The story was a breakaway from Karnad’s usual style though it had layers and sub textual meanings, watching the play the audience remained stuck at the superficial level. Something of everything somehow takes the spotlight away from Radhabai’s story, Vidula’s anxiety and her father’s misplaced sensibilities.

There was nothing new about the play. But it was special for the few things that that characterises Lillette Dubey’s direction. The language of the play was more of Indianised English, the accent and the dialogues punctuated with Indianness, which according to Lillette is imperative since an Indian play in English would lose its essence if it were not like the way we speak or the way we are.

Lillette Dubey’s Wedding Album on stage takes one back to Mira Nair’s Monsoon Wedding on screen, but both the plays are entirely different even after being constructed on more or less similar theme. And this is obvious if we see the disparity between Lillette Dubey on stage and on screen. And she says, stage had always been her passion while screen is something she loves having fun on. Starting in Delhi, Lillete Dubey has been in theatre for nearly 30 years as actor-director and producer. In 1991 she formed her company, Primetime Theatre Company and has so far directed about 20 plays for it, several of which have travelled in India and abroad. Nine years ago she shifted to Mumbai where apart from theatre she has done several TV serials and films. She is also the founder of Theatre Action Group, New Delhi. Lillette Dubey has been a significant personality in the world of theatre with credit of directing play like Partap Sharma’s Sammy that tells the story of Gandhiji’s life starting from South Africa to his death bringing to life different events in our fight for Independence. What is more, the play explores the conflicts between Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi and the Mahatma Gandhi, his inner self. She is also the director of Vijay Tendulkar’s Kanyadan, Mahesh Elkunchwar’s Autobiography and Mahesh Dattani’s Dance Like A Man, first staged in 1995, was the longest-running Indian English play. It has been staged in over a dozen Indian cities, including Chennai, as well as countries all over the world, including Singapore, Colombo, Bangkok, Europe and the US. It has done a two-week run off Broadway in New York at the Tribeca Arts Centre, and performed at the Portland International Performing Arts Festival in Oregon, USA, and the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland.

Lillette Dubey has won accolades for Partap Sharma’s Zen Katha, a play from Lillette Dubey’s Primetime Theatre Company that tells the ancient story of Bodhidharma, a prince from the kingdom of Kanchi in 525 A.D. who is considered the true founder of the modern Zen and martial arts traditions; and Womanly Voices. Lillette’s Breathe In Breathe Out was an adaptation of Three Tall Woman, Edward Albee’s 1994 Pulitzer-Prize winning play.

With all this, the Wedding Album is disappointing when one goes to see a play by Lillette Dubey.

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