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Fighting her inner demons: Shabana Azmi in a one-act play this weekend

A one-act play featuring Shabana Azmi explores identity, fame and the hegemony of language

art and culture Updated: Jul 16, 2016 10:29 IST
Poulomi Banerjee
Shabana Azmi plays a character whose image becomes her inquisitor, confronting her with her deepest secrets.
Shabana Azmi plays a character whose image becomes her inquisitor, confronting her with her deepest secrets.

When actor-director-playwright Girish Karnad wrote the Kannada play Odakalu Bimba in 2005, he directed it himself. More than a decade later, the play, translated later into Hindi and English, has been performed across the country and abroad, and been directed by other stalwarts of theatre besides himself. This weekend, theatre personality Raell Padamsee’s Mumbai-based company Ace Productions will bring the monodrama (a play with a single actor) to the national capital. Directed by Raell’s father, adman and theatre personality Alyque Padamsee, for whom Karnad had translated the play to English, Broken Images features film and theatre actor Shabana Azmi. The play had first been staged in 2009.

“We have staged Broken Images in Delhi also before but that was many years back. In all the places where we have staged it, it has done inordinately well. Even this time we have got a very good opening response,” says Raell.

Read:Playwright Mahesh Dattani on Dance, Drama and Failed Dreams

While many of Karnad’s plays use history and mythology to tackle contemporary issues, Broken Images has a more modern approach. The play captures the inner turmoil of Manjula Nayak, a not-so-successful Hindi short-story writer, who is suddenly catapulted to stardom after writing an English novel. But Manjula worries about whether she has achieved success at the cost of her ideals and her Hindi readership. One day her own image turns inquisitor, putting her on trial for what she did. But is it her own image or that of her look-alike younger sister, who died just before the book was published? Is there something else troubling Manjula’s conscience other than her simply abandoning Hindi for success?

Theatre director Alyque Padamsee hopes his plays will prompt audiences to think. (Supraket Meshram)

“I have directed over 70 full-length plays. And the first thing that had struck me about this play was how on earth could the audience accept two characters who look the same, one the image of another, on stage. There have been plays with characters having split personalities, such as Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, but this was different. And I said let’s do it,” recalls director Alyque Padamsee. He adds, “I wanted to do the play in English and I convinced Karnad himself to translate it for me.”

Read:How I fell in love with Shakespeare: Alyque Padamsee

Then came the question of who to cast. “I wanted an actor who is more identified with Hindi theatre or films, rather than English theatre. And of course it had to be a powerful actor, someone who could portray both the characters of the writer and the image on stage. I had only one name in my mind and that was of Shabana Azmi,” says the director.

Alyque recalls that before the play was staged for the first time, the director and the actor spent about two-and-a-half to three months just discussing the play and the characters. “But I have never got a clear answer either from Girish or Alyque that of the two sisters with whom does our sympathy lie?” says Shabana. “So I go by the audience reaction and with whom I am empathizing on a particular day – sometimes Manjula takes over and sometimes Malini.”

Read:‘I love flawed characters,’ says actor Shabana Azmi

The other thing that Shabana finds extremely challenging as an actor, is that it is a highly technical play. “It is me against a televised image of myself. In an ensemble play, if one actor fumbles or makes a mistake, other actors will cover up. But here I do not have that safety net. The timing has to be perfect because the televised image will just go by its own rhythm,” she explains.

Of course, that hasn’t stopped the actor from improvising on stage. “Once when we were staging the show in Rohtak, the organisers came to me half-an-hour before the show was to start and said that since most people in the audience didn’t understand English could I do a bit in Hindi? So I went in and I was translating the dialogues in Hindi in my mind and saying them, while the televised image said the lines in English. It made the play more accessible to that audience, but it is an experience I will never get over in my life,” she says.

This is the second time that Broken Images is being staged in Delhi and the group is full of appreciation for the Delhi audience. “Theatre is not only about entertainment. Of course it should grip the minds and hearts, but it should also make audiences do a bit of soul searching. This is one play that does just that,” says Alyque, as he sums up what the audience should expect from Broken Images.

Broken Images

Airforce Auditorium, Subroto Park, Dhaula Kuan

July 17, 5.30pm and 7.45 pm

Tickets available at