It is not just in India where new adaptations of Ibsen are being done, reveals Ila.
Henrik Ibsen may have written his plays over 150 years ago, but their adaptations are now being staged as socially relevant productions by Mumbai-based theatre group Surnai Theatre and Folk Arts Foundation.
While most Mumbai theatre groups are busy adapting Shakespeare in new colours and contexts, Ila Arun and her theatre company, Surnai Theatre and Folk Arts Foundation, has taken up another playwright who is just as relevant in today’s day and age — Henrik Ibsen. Considered to be the master of modern theatre, Ibsen challenged the value system in Europe at a time when patriarchy was at its height. Now, when India is fighting for the rights of its women and trying to emerge from its redundant traditions, Ila’s Ibsen festival comes at a much-needed juncture.
“I was a part of the Ibsen Festival in 2010 when it was still being organised in Delhi. There, theatre director Nissar Allana was taking Ibsen’s plays and putting them into the context of Indian tradition. For instance, one of his plays was adapted into the tradition of Karnataka. So, I delved into the tradition of Rajasthan and came up with Marichika which is a retelling of Lady from the Sea,” she recalls.
It is not just in India where new adaptations of Ibsen are being done, reveals Ila. “Even in Norway, theatre persons are trying to adapt Ibsen in new ways in order to reach the youth of today,” she explains.
However, to Ila, simply retelling the story is not enough — through her plays she tries to make Ibsen her own, interpreting characters in the Indian context. “Nora, Ellida, Helene — these are not just characters from Ibsen’s plays to me. I see them in women everywhere. So, I take these characters and make them my own. A true adaptation is one, which seems like it is yours, and not another playwright’s. At the same time, it should not throw away its own roots,” she explains.
Renowned theatre and movie personality K.K. Raina, who is also part of the festivals and has directed and acted in several of the plays, adds that Ibsen is perhaps one of the most relevant playwrights of the time. “Over 150 years ago, Ibsen was questioning aspects of society, which we are grappling with even today, especially in India. When his A Doll’s House was first produced, there was a furore in Europe. People from a male-dominated society couldn’t comprehend a woman walking away from her husband and children as the protagonist, Nora, does. Ibsen’s women are in a search of their own voice, just as women in India are trying to assert their own voice today,” he explains.
The trick to keeping the balance and making it relevant, according to Raina, is to create a bridge between the original works of Ibsen and the audience of today. “The characters that I create need to be congruous with the time and place that I am setting them in. In Peer Ghani (an adaptation of Ibsen’s Peer Gynt), for instance, the setting is terrorist-overrun Kashmir. The music, which is a big part of the play, is Kashmiri folk music. Similarly, Marichika adapts the Bhopa and Bhopi tradition of Rajasthan where these two characters essentially narrate the whole story. While keeping the soul of the play intact, it is possible to experiment endlessly with these characters. That is the charm and relevance of Ibsen,” he signs off.
From September 21 to 24, at Prithvi Theatre, Juhu