International Women’s Day triggers these musings. All-women plays transformed Western theatre in the 1970s and 1980s, rebelling against the conventional shortage of female roles, but Indian theatre never followed this important movement. Rangakarmee’s Saptaparni, featuring seven ladies directing seven solo actresses, marks a refreshing change, but the chance goes abegging as Sadhana Ahmed’s script compresses major Tagorean characters into 15 minutes each — the dramatic equivalent of Tweeting their stories.

Under these conditions, obviously a poem works best: Maya Ghosh as Sādhāran Meye (director Adrija Dasgupta) can express the full scope of Malati’s ironic request to Saratchandra Chatterjee for more inspiring heroines. Meanwhile, superior interpreters like Anubha Fatehpuria (Chitrangada) under Tulika Das and Senjuti Mukherjee (Damini) under Sohag Sen extract powerful meaning, but Sanchayita Bhattacharjee (Ela) under Ishita Mukhopadhyay cannot overcome the same handicap, of straitjacketing protagonists of novels and dramas into such snippets. Short stories may still fare better: on Jibita o Mrita, directed by Suranjana Dasgupta, Mrinmoyee Biswas develops her fine promise as a Rangakarmee artiste, whereas Sima Mukhopadhyay cannot prevent the one-dimensional portrait in Shāsti from limiting Karuna Thakur. The weakest item has Kathakali Dasgupta draped in black as Nandini from Rakta-karabi, and singing Radha-Krishna songs, director Abanti Chakraborty flagrantly violating Tagore’s text.

Usha Ganguli’s thematic concept, of all seven “craving for love and an unending search for fulfilment”, does not make it particularly original or even gynocentric, for it applies to all human beings. The production suffers from a woe-is-me, sentiment-soaked overdose, though most of the women are quite strong in Tagore.

When the entertainment industry tries to redeem itself with serious content, the results usually backfire. Paritosh Painter’s Selfie (by Ideas, Mumbai, presented by Sangit Kala Mandir) throws five ladies into a railways waiting room, and predictably, we hear their sensational secrets one by one. Painter aims to empower, but some of his solutions for his characters border on the conservative, if not regressive, especially those concerning motherhood. His screen-performers quintet (one of whom enacts, surprise, a TV star) seem quite awed by the stage, where they certainly need more time to feel at home. They look most at ease while posing for a terminal series of smiley selfies: so much for women’s lib.

(From The Telegraph, 11 March 2017)