In an hour-long drama it is exceedingly difficult to pack in stories of female empowerment, caste hierarchy, protocol to be followed by the commoners in royal courts and the important people who fought in 1857, India’s First War of Independence.
Neha Singh’s Jhalkari manages to do all of that and also succeeds in introducing Rani Laxmibai and Jhalkari, the head of her woman’s army, called Durga Sena, to the kids from various NGOs, who had not heard of these people before.
Around 250-260 kids attended this Rahi Theatre production on Monday at Maharashtra Cultural Centre’s Jyotsna Bhole Sabhagruha as a part of Junoon Theatre’s initiative. The show began with Singh interacting with the kids from various NGOs — Door Step School, Tara Mobile Creches, Aashray and Tere Des Hommes. Many hands were raised when she asked, ‘Who has not watched a natak before?’ Yet, that didn’t deter them from singing, laughing, applauding and crying out ‘cheee’, when a person from the lower caste is shown to clean up after the upper caste people have defecated in the open.
Powerful images as these would hopefully help the children in understanding India’s complex history, especially now, when there are several versions of it, floating in the public domain. Hence when the actors stress that it is Rani’s ‘Durga sena’ and not ‘Durga vahini sena’, or draw the audience’s attention to the happy and equal relationship between Jhalkari and her husband Puran or name people, Hindus, Muslims and Dalits, working in the Jhansi army, it might sound a little preachy to the adults watching the play.
But since the drama is intended at the children, one hopes they go back with the pluralistic montage of our country’s history.