Friday, December 16, 2016




has one set – a TV studio – but a multi-layered theme. It weaves in issues as far apart as the hegemony of English over Indian languages and the hollowness of a media which bestows greatness on a work that lay unnoticed in its original language but when translated into English becomes the toast of the global literary world.  It also deals with psychological repression of an inverted kind.  The central character Manjula, the now successful, Kannada-turned-English writer has a handicapped, wheelchair bound sister, Malini.  But it is the disabled Malini who turns out to be the really healthy and whole person.  It is Malini who not only wins the love of Manjula’s husband, Pramod, but is far more centered and happy than her caretaker sister, Manjula.Not just that.  After her death, it is Manjula whose loveless married life ends by Pramod walking out and moving to Los Angeles and the phenomenal success that she has wrested from Malini by stealing Malini’s unpublished MSS tasting like poison.  

The metaphor of Manjula aka Shabana talking about her heroic exploits with the book on a live television show ends with her finding that her image just does not leave the monitor. It is not her, of course.  It looks like her but it is Malini and the conflict between the self and the image,  between delusion and reality, between the outer mask and the inner truth that emerges in the tussle between the sisters and is the very stuff of the drama. 
Broken Images takes many a side swipe at all those writers in English who are constantly in the news, for fat advances from foreign publishers, for works that are many years away to seeing the light of day, for invitations to foreign colleges, lecture tours and autograph signing sprees. There are also the questions that stare in the face: are the Indian English  cut off from the "smell of the soil," have they sold out to a market-driven economy, have they struck a trade-off with their conscience by not writing in their native language, etc. etc. 
In appropriating the stolen novel, one in which her sister has caricatured her and made her out to be a pushy, conniving, duplicitous relative, a defiant Manjula shouts: "I wrote the novel in English because it burst out in English....What baffles me - actually, hurts me - is why our intellectuals can't grasp this simple fact." We see Manjula Nayak subjected to an interrogation that teases, taunts and finally strips the secrets from her soul.  The TV image reveals the sordid truth about Manjula's marriage, her far from easy relationship with her dead sister Malini and the mysterious circumstances in which the best-selling novel that was written by Malini (with the help of Pramod who, too, was always at home) and now published by Manjula, finds her conceits punctured and her deceptions gradually unravelled. 

Finally she is forced into anger or emotional collapse. The 55-minute play progresses towards a tight and stirring finish as Manjula seems to morph into Malini as "differences of ink and blood and language" are obliterated in a Babel of voices and a jumble of television images.  

Talking about the technical facet of the play, director Alyque said, "There are two Shabanas in the play, it is Shabana speaking to Shabana. With the aid of technology, there are two Shabanas on the stage at the same time!" Meanwhile, the equally excited Shabana says, "The minute I finished reading the script, I said I was on! The play is so dramatic and challenging. It is a technical nightmare; I have to react to my own televised image on the screen. The image is shot as a single one hour shot, so the timing is crucial, there is no room for mistake." 

It is in these climactic moments that Shabana Azmi proves her dramatic worth and for just a few seconds, like the computer image breaking into a million shards, she captures the trauma of the two sisters’ existence.  As for Padamsee’s direction, it is nothing to write home about. 

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