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Thursday, April 9, 2015

A playwright’s experiences with an all-woman theater group in Kuwait

Love, not money, is the most important thing in life. So says a criminal grandmother involved in human and drug-trafficking in my play - ‘Would you light this torch?’ This female character is jailed and later brought to Kuwait by her daughter. She goes through a personal metamorphosis, to reach this conclusion - the defining lesson of her life. The play was performed by 33 amazing women actors and won the Best Drama in the Gulf Award by the Music and Drama Academy of the Cultural Affairs Department of the Government of Kerala, India.
I am honored with the distinction and to confess, proud of what I have achieved. But now I look back and ask: Is it true that love surpasses money? Or is it fame, recognition and a sense of fulfillment the greatest riches in life? I wondered why the female actors, from a three-month-old cutie to a 55-year old granny (in real life) would so whole heartedly commit to the long hours of rehearsal and practice. Why they would commit hours and hours of work for a onetime performance.
These working women and students - including my two daughters - left their work and families behind, studied their lines, came for the rehearsals that went on for three months, arranged for their costumes and props and gave a thundering performance without a hitch. God knows what else they did because these women do not tell you everything of the work that fills their days and nights.
While I was one among them, I was in a world far away, cerebrally, from my work schedules and the company of weekend men with debates on politics, cricket, money and of course women. For three months, I rarely saw my wife who works night shifts. I had sleepless nights thinking over the scenes and how to improve them. I felt happy seeing that the drama crew rehearsing the lines I wrote between my work schedules and enacting what I had envisioned. I was becoming a dictator, just like the character in my play.
I fought with them over differences of opinions whenever they changed what I wrote. With a woman director also helping, I realized my dream of forming a theater group made up of women expats in the Gulf. They named the group Nirbhaya (fearless) after the Delhi girl who was brutally raped in a bus and later died. They shared their joys, sorrows and homemade cakes.
They too had fights over not coming on time for rehearsals and other issues that delayed their schedules. I found these fights trivial but considered my fights with them serious. Whenever I fought with them, I thought of my family and the amazing balance as if nothing had happened. When the Kerala drama academy announced a drama competition for Malayali expats in the Gulf in September, I drafted my script and read it to the Nirbhaya actors. I titled my script ‘Would you light this torch?’ suggesting the new generation is looking for light from the old generation.
I placed my characters in Jleeb Al-Shuyoukh, a place with the nickname Keralafornia. Issues like the Russian military intervention in Ukraine and the Palestinian struggle were put in the mouth of my characters, thanks to my experience in Kuwait Times. It was Modi’s time in India too. I wished, through my script, that democracy will survive despite monarchies and dictatorships, just like the new generation who will transcend the old. The hunt for actresses was not easy.
The pillars of Nirbhaya Theater, Nayana Santhosh, Mini Satheesh, Paulsy Biju and Treesa Wilson, who won the best actress award, brought in their friends and their kids. I eventually found one on Facebook and messaged her to take a small role in our play. “Who, me? I’m not an actress,” she replied. “Why not?” I said. She gave it a try and blew away the minds of many, including her teenage children’s, her parents’ and mine. On the day of the competition, Feb 25, the Salmiya Indian Community School hall was packed. In pin-drop silence, the audience watched mobs lynching the dictator, kids watering the plants and painting green their surroundings.
The audience gave a roaring applause when the protagonist brought her three-month-old child, making the grandma utter her love - not money - dialogue. KD 450 was spent for the script to be dramatized. We all shared that too. But do I still think love is more important than money? I’m not sure. But I am a happier person now. 

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