The Difficult Job of Letting Go

Death is central to life. Enduring the loss of a loved one is the ultimate test for the living. We have quick-fix words for those who pass the test—‘closure’ and ‘moving on’. Both indicate that you have arrived at that desirable stage in your grief when you present a normal face to the world while your insides have changed forever. People encourage you to get there because they don’t want to face what’s coming their way as sure as anything.

If living with loss is tough, writing about it is even tougher. Novelists are better off than playwrights. They have as many pages at their disposal as they need, to create a full picture of loss, whether in monotone or multiple hues. Poets, on the other hand can do the opposite—distil loss into a few densely significant lines, directly like Conrad Aiken -- Music I heard with you was more than music,/ And bread I broke with you was more than bread; / Now that I am without you, all is desolate; / All that was once so beautiful is dead – or indirectly like Emily Dickinson-- The bustle in a house / The morning after death / Is solemnest of industries / Enacted upon earth. / The sweeping up the heart / And putting love away / We shall not want to use again / Until eternity.

But what is a playwright to do, in this case Makarand Deshpande, when he is haunted by the idea of death and wants to put his questions and thoughts on stage? He has at most two hours to do it in, the use of a space of specific dimensions, the bodies and voices of actors, music, lights, set and props. With these he must beguile us into making his dark preoccupations our own. He might do it by telling a straight story; but that has never been Deshpande’s way. And so we have Grihalaxmi, his latest play, which I saw at Prithvi on Saturday, treading the risky path of ostensibly on-the-spot fabrication.     

Grihalaxmi is about the vacuum created in the life of the protagonist Rajat (Deshpande) when his beloved wife Neelam (Divya Jagdale) dies in an accident. Should Rajat ‘move on’ with Rekha (Heeba Shah) who is in love with him? Can Rekha fill the void that was once Neelam? Can she be treated as a mere instrument to help him staunch the flow of painful memories?  These questions form the core narrative. But other narratives specific to theatre intervene to complicate the writer-director’s decisions.

Deshpande, playing the writer-director, watched approvingly by his adoring assistant Bobby (Sanjay Dadhich), struggles to solve the central problem of how to suggest Rajat’s inner emptiness on stage. However a playwright-director, unlike the novelist or the poet, cannot give free reign to his imagination. He must submit to its being shackled by actors and producers, all with their own demands. Divya Jagdale and Heeba Shah play actors who expect Deshpande to fulfill their professional aspirations through the work that he is creating; and the producer, Shuklaji (Vinit Sharma) has his own deeply cherished ideas about the kind of play he wants to produce. If the play is to be staged at all, the writer-director must accommodate his colleagues’ ideas without harming either the truth of Rajat’s situation or the theatrical truth of its staging.

The twists and turns the writer-director takes in order to juggle all these demands successfully, work cumulatively to intensify Rajat’s emotional state of oscillation between the morbid desire to hold on to Neelam and the rational compulsion to let go of her. In the end, the creative process of imagining the play into existence itself becomes the play, Grihalaxmi.

If that sounds complex, it is and it isn’t. Dark as the subject of death and loss is, Grihalaxmi moves without depressing. This is because Deshpande plays with theatrical possibilities that engage us mentally and creates hilarious scenes in the process. (Personally I could do without the one in which Neelam and Rekha play the stereotypical wife and other woman chasing each other with kitchen implements.)

Surprisingly for a Makarand Deshpande play, Grihalaxmi’s set is minimal. There are no mysterious objects here; nothing descends from the flies or magically lights up. The costumes are gorgeous, the music imaginative. But finally it’s the cast’s pitch-perfect performances, Deshpande’s and Dadhich’s in particular, that will take me back to Grihalaxmi next time it is staged. Unfortunately, with Deshpande, you can never tell when that will be.

Published On : 31-12-2014