Play: Ladi Najariya, 1994
Written by: ABhiram Bhadkamkar
Directed by: Waman Kendre, NSD New Delhi
The play ‘Ladi Nazariya,’ Hindi, was adapted into a theatre text from the well known Hindi satirist Harishankar Parsai’s ‘Ladi Najraiya’, by Abhiram Bhadkamkar and directed by Waman Kendre at the National School of Drama New Delhi in 1994.
The story revolves around Namya’s love of Savitri, who happens to be the wife of Kathavachak Sitaram, a storyteller and preacher. Confronted by Savitri’s marital commitment, Namya turns to the counsel of Baba Sankidas who realizes the political potential of the situation and advises Namya to go on a hunger strike to death as a symbolic gesture of his love and unwavering determination to win Savitri’s affection. Religion joins hand with politics when Nemya’s hunger strike is interpreted by ‘Sadhvi’ who identifies Namya as the reincarnation of ‘Maharishi Vanmanush’ and Savitri as the former wife of the Maharishi. Mounting public pressure and political interference (of the government and cabinet) forced Savitri to choose Namya over her husband. Savitri is taken to Namya only to find that he has died of hunger.
The ideal Hindu family was being strongly promoted in the country in the 1990s particularly through cinema. Films like the 1994 blockbuster Bollywood film, ‘Hum Aapke Hain Kaun’ and the 1995 super hit film ‘Dilwale Dulhaniya le Jaayenge (DDLJ)’ propagated notions framing the nation and women. According to Sheena Malhotra and Tavishi Alagh, “Domestic Hindi film dramas post-1990 display a remarkably consistent pattern in producing a monolithic Indian identity that is Hindu, wealthy and patriarchal in nature” (“Dreaming the Nation: Domestic Dramas in Hindi films post-1990”, South Asian Popular Culture, 17 May 2010). The portrayal of the Hindu ideal family and the cultural nationalism aligned with the Hindu concepts exemplified through the theme of arranged marriages, which not only supports the concept of joint families but also places significant emphasis on the honor, chastity, and virginity of women within the family. For instance, in ‘Hum Aapke Hain Kaun,’ decisions within Puja’s family are consistently made by the male figures — the father-in-law, father, and uncle — who assume the role of decision-makers. Married women in the film present themselves respectfully with covered heads, refraining from addressing their spouses by their first names as a gesture of deference. Prem’s sacrifice of his love for Nisha in the film exemplifies familial decisions, as the family determines that she should marry Prem’s older brother Rajesh after her sister’s demise. The film also resurrects the ancient practice of a widow marrying her deceased husband’s brother within the cinematic space. The 1990s Hindi film industry’s family melodrama promotes traditional values by showcasing elaborate northern Hindu marriage ceremonies and rituals. It places the joint family at the center of the nation, coinciding with a period when the nuclear family was supplanting the extended family among India’s middle class (Jenny Sharpe, “Gender, Nation, and Globalization in Monsoon Wedding and Dilwale Dulhania Le Jaayenge,” Meridians: Feminism, Race, Transnationalism, 2005). Hindi films of this period also show the desire of an urban Hindu middle class and wealthy NRIs to reconnect with their birthplace through the idea of a glorious Hindu past presenting India in a singular culture.
Against this background, the play ‘Ladi Nazariya’ satirizes and critiques masculinity, manipulation, the traditional Hindu family values and coercion of consent.Lari Najariya