Watch the legacy of the doyenne of Indian cinema, Devika Rani, unfold in a theatre.
Even during the dawn of films in India, there was a fierce and ambitious actress whose brilliance in front of the camera left the movie-theatre-going audience awestruck. Rightly called the First Lady of Indian Cinema, Devika Rani’s career boomed during an era when patriarchy held an icy grip on Indian society. Controversy often trails success, and the actress was no alien to that, but the feminist stands she took — about 80 years ago — continue to inspire people today.
It is this greatness of Devika that motivated author and playwright Kishwar Desai to translate the actress’ life into a full-length play that is presently travelling across India. Called Devika Rani: Goddess of the Silver Screen, the cast and crew include big names such as Lillete Dubey (director), Ira Dubey (as Devika), and other actors such as Nandita Dubey and Joy Sengupta.
The production’s journey began about 15 years ago, when Desai started to collect material on Devika for a book. “I wondered, why don’t I hear more about such people? Because they’ve absolutely made cinema what it is today,” says the writer.
Over the years, Desai gathered two suitcases full of material, and then, last year, “I bumped into Lillete, whom I knew from college. She and I started talking, and she was looking for a subject. I told her I have this amazing woman, would you be interested? The good thing about Lillete is that she’s a bit like Devika — risk-taking. And that’s how things began.”
The result is a product with high production value, be it elaborate set design and costume, neat lighting or an “International quality stage direction,” as Desai calls it. She continues, “The depicted story works at two levels. In terms of Devika’s journey as an actress, as well as her relationships. Basically, it’s about one woman’s ambitions, love, betrayal, and survival. She goes through all these things over 18 years.”
Desai believes that the story is very modern and it presents a “women’s perspective”, because literature representing what women were doing in the 1930s and 1940s is virtually absent. “Many of the things you see in the play will resonate with people of today. The very difficult aspect of a woman trying to make it in a man’s world. And, she (Devika) considered herself an equal. Even as a young girl, she didn’t want to be subservient. She made up her mind, what she wants.”
The play was performed at Gurugram’s Shiv Nadar School yesterday, 7pm onward