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A modern adaptation of a Tagore story talks about domestic violence

A modern adaptation of Rabindranath Tagore’s 1914 short story, Streer Patra, dwells on issues of domestic violence and inland migration

art and culture Updated: Feb 23, 2017 17:00 IST
Soma Das
Her Letters
A scene from the play. (Photo courtesy: Rahul Singh.)

A modern adaptation of Rabindranath Tagore’s 1914 short story, Streer Patra, dwells on issues of domestic violence and inland migration

Sharmistha Saha (now 33) was a theatre student at Freie Universität in Berlin, Germany, when the 2012 Delhi rape incident happened. “My friends went for the protest march at India Gate and were lathi charged. I was not able to do anything but follow the news on YouTube,” says Saha. Around that time, she read Rabindranath Tagore’s 1914 short story, Streer Patra (A Wife’s Letter).

Read: Living under a shadow: Tales of the daughters of Rabindranath Tagore

The story revolves around a letter written by a woman named Mrinal to her husband. In it, she revisits her relationship with her friend Bindu, and how it symbolised freedom. The story stops short of revealing whether Bindu was her friend or lover. “Streer Patra spoke of being violated at home, of not being allowed to live freely. It is an intense play about being entangled in relationships that are merely functional. It seems relevant to our times,” says Saha, who decided to make a play on it.

Saha’s play is titled Her Letters, and is adapted to a modern context. In 2014, the play was performed in Berlin with a cast of Indian-, Iranian- and Bangladeshi-origin actors. It was performed in three languages: German, English and Bengali.

Saha conducted a two-month workshop with three actors, where they wove their personal narratives into the play. For instance, one of the characters voiced her initial hatred in coming back to India to visit her grandparents. Growing up abroad, she had developed the perception that India is regressive. “Since some of the actors were second-generation Germans, immigration and the discrimination faced was an important element,” says Saha.

A still from Her Letters. (Photo courtesy: Rahul Singh.)

Saha returned to India in 2016 and decided to create a new version of Her Letters, this time with actors from Mumbai. “With Indian actors, the questions are different. Along with issues like domestic violence and marital rape, we talk of inland migration and the treatment meted to people of different states,” says Saha. Some of the personal narratives deal with India’s obsession with fairness and how newly married women are objectified as relatives come and dissect their looks. The actors (Lata Singh, Bharati Perwani and Manisha Mondal) also recite poetry and text that is relevant to the context, including Virginia Woolf’s suicide note and Amrita Pritam’s poetry.

“We have tried to avoid the romanticisation of Tagore’s work and instead focused on a modern connect and the universal issues that it addresses,” says Saha.

Her Letters will be performed on February 26, 6pm and 8pm
At Harkat Studios, Andheri (W)
Entry: Rs 350 on insider.in and bookmyshow.com