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Broken Images: Riveting Psychodrama


'Organizers Desi Roots and Vachikam treated a packed house of Atlanta theatre enthusiasts to a riveting slice of drama, “Broken Images”, produced by Raell Padamasee of Ace Productions this October 15th at the Gwinett Center.

Great expectations ride on a play written by Girish Karnad, directed by Alyque Padasmsee with a sole performer Shabana Azmi on stage for an entire hour. True to their roots and our anticipation, Shabana Azmi delivers the brilliant script with finesse and precision, engaging the audience to a spellbinding act. Karnad’s narrative appears to be simple in its presentation, but is richly layered with various aspects of human psychology. The play addresses various conflicts of the mind, the local writers conflict when they attempt to write in English, the siblings conflict with each other and within themselves, when one of them is physically handicapped, and a more recent culprit in society, obsession with the public image - a conflict of the self privately with the image they portray publicly. Karnad’s brilliance is in his cohesive amalgamation of all these issues in one single act, one straight hour building up the story to an end where a virtual image on the TV screen seems to be more real as a conscious than a real person chasing after virtual images.

“Broken Images – The scandal behind a world famous novelist” as the tagline suggests unfolds the story of Manjula, a lesser-known Hindi writer turned celebrity, thanks to the super success of her maiden English novel, said to be based on her disabled sister who passed away a year ago. A television screen placed behind her at the studio, beams her rehearsed speech about her successful destination, being the author of a successful English novel. Trouble starts when the image on the TV screen, turns into someone that confronts Manjula about the truth of the journey to her successful destination. Now Manjula traces back her footprints, one step at a time.

The Image on TV pushes her to talk about her sister, Malini, who is said to suffer from meningomyetocele, a condition that restricted Malini’s life to a wheel chair. Malini, though physically encumbered, was always emotionally opulent with her parent’s extra attention. Manjula had always felt depleted, denied of their care and love. The inner strength Malini gained through all the focus made her more intelligent and she even looked better than her and was also better at the English language, Manjula admits. Being married to the man of her choice had given Manjula a sense of relief. But then her parents, even in death favored Malini, leaving their assets in her name. And Malini moved in with her sister and her husband. Manjula ascertains her sister had adjusted well, maybe a little too comfortably. It was not enough that her parents had sidelined her; Manjula had begun to feel Malini was grabbing her husband’s attention too. What made it worse, as Manjula admits was that she knew that her husband would and could not cheat on her physically, but Manjula started feeling like an outsider in her own home walking in on intelligent conversations between them that were cut off on her entry. She wondered if he thought about Malini when he lay in bed with her. She came in second, yet again and felt compelled to avenge her agony. Manjula’s broken personality symbolized by a broken mirror ends the play. What is it that Manjula did, was she justified? 

“Broken Images” tells you what Manjula did, but whether or not it is justified and where the sympathies lie is for the audience to decide. As a thoughtful audience pointed out, there is often hypocrisy and conflict within ourselves with who we are, who we think we are and who we wish to be. 

In conversation with Kavitha Chibber after the play, Shabana Azmi admitted that she is still unsure if she is in favor or Manjula or Malini. The predicament is understandable, given the complex issues faced by the characters. She also added that the fusion of technology and real time performance fascinated her. As Shabana Azmi mentioned, timing is crucial since she has to perform in co-ordination of her own pre recorded image for 44 minutes which she says she got it right in the first take. The evening concluded with the organizers Desi Roots and Vachikam thanking all the sponsors and inviting Atlanta’s beloved personality, Mustafa Ajmeri on stage.

“Broken Images” currently on a US tour of 14 cities, has staged successfully in Hindi (“Bikhre Bimb”) and Kannada (“Odakalu Bimba”) with Arundhati Nag across various Indian cities. An intriguing introspection into the conflicts of the human mind overcome with voracity of self-created images penned by Karnad, aided with able direction from Alyque Padasmsee, topped with a compelling performance by Shabana Azmi sure makes a perfect recipe to titillate the mind, long after the curtains are down. 

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