An European classic at Ibsen fest


It was a treat for theatre lovers in Mumbai to watch the Hindi adaptation of ‘Hedda Gabler’, a rare Ibsen classic at the annual festival hosted by Surnai, writes Prof. Avinash Kolhe.

Thanks to ‘Surnai’, a Mumbai-based theatre, theatre-lovers of Mumbai get to enjoy the plays of Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen (1828-1906). The world largely knows him for his immemorial plays like ‘A Doll’s House’, ‘An Enemy of the People’ and ‘Pillars of the Society’. His other plays like ‘Ghosts’ and ‘Hedda Gabler’ are brilliant, but rarely performed in our country. This year was the 5th edition of ‘Ibsen Festival’ organised by Surnai, which staged ‘Hedda Gabler’.

Scholars the world over regard Ibsen as the most important dramatist after Shakespeare. He is often regarded as ‘the father of realism’. The title character Hedda is considered one of the greatest roles in the world.

Ila Arun has adapted the play in Hindi to suit Indian conditions and society. The name of the play is ‘Hardit Kaur Gill.’ Hardit (Hedda) is the daughter of Lt Gen Gill and has just come back from six months of honeymoon. The play opens at Hardit`s husband’s home where nothing is according to her taste and priorities in life. For example, there is no shooting range where she can practice shooting! This sets the tone of her relationship with Deven Malhotra, her husband and his family. Deven is a researcher of medieval history. Like any typical Indian life, the family members expect a baby from Hardit.

It becomes clear in the course of the play that Hardit does not love her husband. In their placid life comes their old friend Inderjeet, a talented writer/researcher, but for some years had become a drunkard. Now Inderjeet has pulled out and recently written a book that has become a bestseller. He is also ready with his next book. In between Inderjeet was cared for by Kanta, a young lady who had married a rich man twice her age. Inderjeet was at one time in love with Hardit but she was not sure of her emotions and gets married to Deven. Now she is quite jealous of Inder’s success and also of Kanta, the new woman in his life.

Deven, a true friend of Inder is very happy with the Inder`s success and is equally impressed with his new book, the manuscript of which is left with him. When Deven praises Inder’s book, in a fit of jealousy, Hardit burns the manuscript. Deven is angry but when Hardit tells him that she wants him to be successful and not Inderjeet and she is now pregnant, there comes a marked change in his behaviour. And, he now sides Hardit.

In due course Inderjit and Hardit have a show-down and she taunts him for being a coward, incapable of even committing suicide. She boldly offers him her revolver. He takes it, goes out and shoots himself to death. There is utter confusion about Inder’s death. But Baloo, a confirmed bachelor and their family friend and a magistrate by profession, suspects Hardit’s hand in the crime. He logically explains to Hardit the sequence of events. Hardit realises that she is completely trapped, goes in the bedroom and shoots herself. A tragic end to the beautiful, ambitious lady!

It is a complex play and scholars have been debating the character of Hedda since many years. Is she a destroyer? Is this play a tragedy of modern life? Is Hedda anti-hero? There are no easy answers to these questions, but what comes out clear is Hedda`s lust for power.

Ila has adapted the play with so much finesse that one forgets that it is an adaption of a European classic. Her daughter Ira Dubey who plays Hardit Kaur Gill walked away with maximum applause for her brilliant performance. She had good support from rest of the cast – Sunil Palwal (Deven Malhotra), Rahul Bagga (Inder), Gaurav Amalani (Babloo), Dona Munshi (Kanta) and Ila Arun (Aunty). The play was directed by K K Raina, a veteran theatre personality.

Prof. Avinash Kolhe

Prof. Avinash Kolhe retired as Associate Professor in Political Science from D.G. Ruparel College, Mumbai