The ghost of Ibsen


Ila Arun’s drama group ‘Antardhvani’ staged yet another Ibsen play, Ghosts, at Mumbai’s NCPA theatre recently. She must be commended for her splendid efforts, says Prof. Avinash Kolhe, as he reviews this play.

Mumbai-based senior the spians Ila Arun and K. K. Raina have been bringing Henrik Ibsen’s (1828-1906) plays to Indian audiences quite regularly. Now their drama group ‘Antardhvani’ has brought to stage Ibsen’s Ghosts in Hindi Piccha karati parchaiyan (shadows that chase. This is one of Ibsen’s rare plays. Normally, Indian audiences know Ibsen through his plays like A Doll’s House, An Enemy of the People and The Pillars of Society. These are the plays that support progressive ideologies like women’s empowerment (A Doll’s House), exposes corruption in the system (An Enemy of People). On the other hand, plays like Hedda Gabler and Ghosts show the dirty side of human nature and hence, perhaps are rarely staged. ‘Antardhvani’ must be complimented for bringing a powerful play like Ghosts to Indian audiences.

As is her her style, Ila Arun does not blindly translate foreign plays in Hindi. She trans-renders such plays in the Indian context with appropriate use of language and setting. This skill was on display when her group mounted Ibsen’s Peer Gynt in Hindi as Peer Gani against the background of Kashmir Valley. This time Ila Arun has used Rajasthan as the background for Ghosts and presented Piccha karati parchaiyan. Not only this, she has contemporarised the play, which is why characters in this play use cell phones.

The story
This play is a sad story of a middle-aged woman, Yashodhara, who has recently lost her husband Maharaja Kunwar Bhanu Pratap Singh in mysterious circumstances. Yashodhara has a son who is a Paris-based fashion designer. The play opens when a school dedicated to Bhanu Pratap Singh is to be inaugurated. Everything is ready. Purohit, friend, philosopher and guide of this royal family and Yashodhara, are busy giving final touches to the inaugural function. Slowly, steadily the dark and dirty secrets of the family, hidden carefully all these years, start coming to light.

Yashodhara has been maintaining the façade of a happy marriage for years. But after the death of her husband, things began to unravel. First and foremost, the audience gets to know that her husband was a womaniser, who would not mind wooing even a housemaid of the palace. In fact, as the story unfolds, it comes to light that he has fathered an illegitimate daughter with a housemaid. As it happens in such situations, the matter was hushed up with money, and the housemaid was forced to marry a carpenter.

Yashodhara confides this secret in Purohit who is a puritan, and a strong believer in values. For example, Yashodhara reminds him how he had turned her away years ago when she had run away from the palace, as she was utterly disgusted with her husband and how Purohit persuaded her to go back to keep the family honour.

She knows that secretly Purohit loves her, but when she confessed this, he turned away as it would amount to betraying his friend’s trust.

The illegitimate daughter is a young girl and now works for Yashodhara, who knows what her actual status is. This young girl is quite competent and ambitious. She tries to seduce the young Paris-based prince so that she could go abroad. The Prince too falls for her charm and announces his intention to take her to Paris. Yashodhara is aghast as she realises that this amounts to incest, and decides to stop this sin by hook or by crook.

As if this was not enough, she gets to know that her son, whom she tried to keep away from his father and his evil influences, is suffering from syphilis, a sexually transmitted disease. Her world comes crumbling down. The mother in her comes to surface, and tries hard to console her son. In other words, ghosts of your sins come visiting generation after generation. Ibsen had utter disregard for the morality of the society he lived in, and used his pen very powerfully to expose the hypocrisies of that society which in a way are no different from the modern society.

The cast
Ila Arun plays the part of Yashodhara with remarkable ease. Her persona is eminently suitable to play the role of a woman from a royal family. She has used the Rajasthani dialect of Hindi in this play, which the entire cast is very comfortable with. Then there is K. K. Raina who plays Purohit’s character. He maintains the tension in the play by forcefully arguing in favour of different values, and as an establishment man, knows how to control the situation.

The play was staged at the Experimental Theatre of NCPA, an ideal place to mount such plays. The effect of the play was simply terrific as the entire cast is competent with support from other dramatic elements like lights and costumes. Since this is a period play of sorts, costumes communicate the royal family and the sets, the royal ambience. But the focus always remains on Ila Arun and K.K. Raina, who brought their years of experience on stage to communicate the pathos, the inner turmoil of their characters. Theirs was a spellbinding performance. Do visit this Ibsen’s masterpiece to understand how things never change, and how families all over the world, through all times, try to keep such secrets under the carpet. In fact, the more things change, the more they remain the same.


Prof. Avinash Kolhe

Prof. Avinash Kolhe is Asst.Professor in Political Science at D.G. Ruparel College, Mumbai.