1 MA English with Communication Studies
Contemporary Critical Theory / MEL 232
Mr Anil Pinto
16th February 2104
The concept of the “new woman” in Mohan Rakesh’s Aadhe Adhure
“The crisis of identity and breakdown of communication in human relations and resultant tragic effect of boredom and despair constitute the theme of Rakesh’s play, Aadhe Adhure, which is by far is best play, devastatingly exposing the fragmented personalities and broken images in a disintegrated society.” — N.Choudhuri, (Hindi Drama, Contemporary Indian Literature)
The social awareness that characterized the age of Premchand was followed by an age in which individual became cultural and his social linkages peripheral. Such was the age carried forward by Mohan Rakesh. He analysed deeply the problems and psyche of the individual highlighting the feelings, desires, and frustrations of middle class man and in doing so he gives a portrayal of the women who is sexually emancipated and socially empowered. The stories written by him dealt with personal problems at various levels of a man-woman relationship. He took the movement of Nai Kahaaniyan forward with Rajendra Yadav and Kamlesh. In his own words “My stories are about the people living through torture of relationships in loneliness… loneliness that comes from living in the society.”
Mohan Rakesh’s “Halfway House” (Aadhe Adhure, 1959) can be viewed as an exploration of meaning and identity in the turmoil of changing social and familial structures. Although the play seeks to construct the search for identity within the unfulfilling, incomplete nature of bourgeois existence as a universal non-gendered experience along Existential lines as its primary concern, it eventually deals with many questions on a broader socio-economic context on realist lines focusing mainly on the construction of femininity in the portrayal of the female protagonist ‘Savitri’. In comparison to the female characters in the play, the male characters are weak and lack a certain sense of agency. This was relatively a new concept where the focus shifted from the male to the female character that had been given much of agency and power in the society in general and in the play in particular. The concept of the ‘other’ is as primordial as consciousness itself. In the most primitive communities, one finds the expression of a duality, that of the ‘self’ and the ‘other.’
Whenever there is a perceptible change or decline in social, moral, economic or religious values, a writer comes forward and focuses on malady that is causing wide spread constriction in the society. The play by Rakesh is one such attempt to bring to the light the sociological problems of its time. The play starts with a compound of acrimoniousness, rancorousness and an irascibility that stays till the end. The play is a scathing criticism of unfulfilling, incomplete nature of bourgeois existence and preoccupation with the upper middle class. The matriarchal household shakes up the very edifice of the patriarchal structures. The character of Savitri which by the name itself is very ironical stands apart in the whole play. Savitri was a figure in Indian mythology who fought against the Yama for the life of her husband. In the play on the other hand, she is the one who does not stand by her spineless husband but against him. She is often seen snobbish and debauch by various critics who feels pleasure in hurting her husband. This magnificent character of Savitri raises umpteen questions on the expected gender roles of the woman. Mohan Rakesh could be called a pioneer in the revelation of this “new woman” who was nothing but the opposite of what society expected out of the other sex. Rakesh took this zeal of feminism imbibed in the character of Savitri a step further by making her exert her own will and her attempt to come out of the ‘Sisyphean plight’. She is the breadwinner of the family and builds up the matriarchal household by taking care of everyone. Play represents the contemporary modern women’s struggle to define and attain an autonomous selfhood. Her female protagonists are at great pains to free themselves from stultifying, traditional constraints. The social and cultural change in the post- Independence India has made women conscious of the need to define themselves, their place in society, and their surroundings. Her character stands for each and every woman in the society who has been tied in years of pain and unsatisfied institution of marriage.
Her search for identity and meaning in marriage is best articulated when she seeks fulfilment and reason in marital bliss –
“Why does one get married? In order to fulfil a need….an inner….void, if you like; to be self-sufficient….complete.”
Since her own husbands fails to fulfil this inner emptiness, Savitri seeks marital happiness beyond conjugal relations in men who possess the qualities she had always aspired for in Mahendranath. Dilip Kumar Basu observes, “The desire to look for “completeness” in the “other” may look like Everyman’s essential and unresolvable problem, and may vaguely place her in the centre of an Absurdist drama where the search may be considered tragic/ridiculous.” Although the concept of Savitri seeking meaning in life being defined in terms of her relations with men seems problematic in itself, the play tries to trick us into the generalisation that this is nothing but an existentialist quest for meaning in life. She is reported to be overwhelmed by Juneja’s power, affluence and sense of reason, Shivjeet’s intellectual prowess, his university degree and numerous trips abroad enamoured her. Jagmohan understands nature, sense of humour, modernism, elite lifestyle and masculine pride held immense appeal for her. She was supposed to be attracted to her now son-in-law, Manoj too, as his influential status had charmed her sufficiently. Savitri moves from one man to another in search of the perfect partner. The play tries to portray this search as an illusion, an Absurdist attempt by denying Savitri the happiness she is looking for and making her realise that all men are the same and they all of them as in Kirti Jain’s words “want to evade responsibility and to exploit her.”
The female self is seen as the other but the very fact that Mohan Rakesh creates a magnificent persona of Savitri in the play speaks volumes about the female consciousness at large. Celebration of femininity by the practical culture is actually a subjugation of female autonomy. In order to destroy the supremacy of patriarchal culture, human beings should be identified as male and female based on their sex and not as men and women. The term ‘woman’ connotes the quality of woman, which the society attributes to a female. She should be obedient, patient and servile in her behaviour towards others. The moment a woman does something different than the society would call her either a bad woman or lunatic. Human beings are not products, which come out of a factory to be alike. It is high time that the patriarchal culture ceased to exist for the all-round development of women.
In Halfway House the husband-wife relationship has a special importance in the psychological and mental development sense. Savitri's husband, Mahendranath is an image of morality that indirectly convinces her wife to stick to traditional morals. He is a moving and living virtue and tradition. He does not like the entry of Savitri's boss, Singhania in the house so he always finds opportunity to leave house whenever Singhania comes. However, Savitri is not ready to accept Mahendranath as he is. She fails to understand the meaning of conjugal life and love. Savitri breaks the traditional image of the chaste wife and looks for relationships outside marriage. She stands on equal terms with the husband. Savitri exposes and shatters conventional notions of family values and the man-woman relationship within marriage. The feminist approach of Rakesh displays Savitri and Binny (her daughter) as lonely figures facing the experiences of loveless marriage like any modern woman of contemporary elitist society where men folk are busy with making money and fame. The agonies of the modern lone woman are not much different. Therefore, Savitri's confession of her betrayal and her forceful justification of it to her friend is enlightenment of the modern woman. The facets of familial relationships with all its variegated forms have been intensively explored in Rakesh's play, Halfway House. In the play family is portrayed where woman (Savitri) is neglected and is subjected to isolation, wrath and ill-treatment. Thus, Savitri is pushed into the arms of other man by the negligence of her husband, the humiliation of her family members and her loneliness. Her negligence by her family members is the sole cause of her extramarital relations. Halfway House deals with clash between the egos of the husband and wife, the tension, suffocation and disintegration of a relationship in the context of traditional Indian culture and modernity. To conclude, the portrayal of family in the play bears strong relevance to the present day family structures and challenges of disintegration. Love and compromise offer as remedies to preserve the Indian family system.
O.P. Sharma Prakash, an eminent critic says that, “Halfway House is the crisis of dignity of the individual. Modern man demands individual dignity as well as honour of is choice... It represents the modern sensibility in all its intensity, form and dimensions.” The fact that Manoj blames ‘something’ in Binni’s maternal house as the cause of all trouble and then prevents her from working establishes that the ‘something’ is in reference to her mother’s promiscuity which leads him to infer that letting women out of the house would always come with the threat of her infidelity. Moreover, Mohan Rakesh’s juxtaposition of a monogamous husband with a woman whose defining feature is her promiscuity ironically at a time when the ‘Hindu Marriage Act (1955)’ came into force outlawing polygamy to protect the rights of Hindu women reflects the extent of male anxiety generated by women’s emancipation, whose right to work meant the dissolution of the public-private dichotomy necessary for the maintenance of the family as a private sphere. This anxiety is further elaborated in terms of portraying Kinni as an uncared neglected kid, who returns to a home without the mother and feels lonely and alienated.
Rakesh’s play deals with the rising of the middle class in general where the woman now demanded for their own agency and where they are not shy to explore their sexuality. Various instances in the play give a hint towards the sexual advances of the Savitri. Though she is a mother and should technical embody the maternal characters, her life is inextricably linked to the idea of this new woman which Rakesh explored.
Rakesh, Mohan. Aadhe Adhure. 1959. Print.
Nayantara Uma, ‘Indian Women writer’s at the Cross Roads’, Pen crafts, New Delhi, 1996. p. 243.
Kumar, Radha. "Contemporary Indian Feminism." Palgrave Macmillian Journals. 33. (1989): n. page. Web. 16 Feb. 2014.
Production and Direction: Lillete Dubey
Cast: Lillete Dubey, Ira Dubey, Dr. Mohan Agashe, Rajeev Siddhartha & Anuschka Sawhney
At the outset, Lillete Dubey deserves all praise for placing her faith in an intense subject for her debut in Hindi theatre. And that the choice happens to be Mohan Rakesh’s intriguingly insightful “Aadhe Adhure” speaks volumes of her commitment to the cause of meaningful theatre - an art form which is still very much alive, if not kicking as the critics would be keen to point out.
Rakesh’s protagonist Savitri is a victim of an urban dysfunctional family of the late sixties but her trials and tribulations are timeless, albeit some of them may have assumed new forms with time. Following her husband’s financial ruin and the incapability to fulfil even the commonplace desires of her life, she’s drawn to other men in the course of her forced employment. The pull appears to be partly inadvertent and partly intentional. We are never sure whether it’s solely for the family cause or it also has shades of personal gratification as well. Rakesh keeps the audience pondering.
His play also stands out for the unbiased quality of its feminist stance. In unfolding the trauma of Savitri’s life, the story steers clear of overruling perceptions and is highly sensitive to the standpoints of Savitri’s dependents and detractors as well - notably, her meek, loser husband Mahendranath (Dr. Mohan Aagshe), mutinous but crestfallen eldest daughter (Ira Dubey), disillusioned and downcast son (Rajeev Siddhartha) and the youngest teenage daughter (Anushcka Sawhney) turning more dishevelled in the light of the dubious reality around her. While Savitri bears the brunt of the family torment, every member is confronting a vacuum emanating from respective failed dreams and flawed decisions.
Savitri’s despondency (Dubey herself in the lead role) comes alive on stage as it should, save for few fleeting moments where the story seems to lose some of its momentum. Despite her inherent highbrow image, she depicts Savitri’s working class mannerisms, successfully if not effortlessly. But the essence of Mohan Rakesh’s radical geo-modernism (away from the popular but constrained notions of modernism and post-modernism) unfolds chiefly through the superb performance of veteran Dr. Agashe in multiple roles. The psychiatrist in him must have relished the potent case study of family dysfunction that this play unleashes in lyrical form. And Dubey shows remarkable ingenuity in letting him drive the principal message - first as the casual narrator at the very beginning who sets the uncertainty and impermanence of his character as the underlying context for the play and finally as the well meaning family friend Juneja, the only common link between Savitri and Mahendranath, who exposes the dark side of Savitri’s angst while acknowledging the depth of her anguish, only to pave the way for what could possibly reunite husband and wife in a cocoon of measured compromise. That the frail Mahendranath returns home in the concluding scene is no proof of this negotiation, yet it leaves the audience with some wishful cues.
Interspersed in between are Agashe’s fleeting appearances as Savitri’s professional acquaintances - the lecherous Singhania and the frivolous Jagmohan - where he brings out villainous shades of the respective characters providing much comic relief but without diluting the play’s intensity. However, his Hindi intonation leaves glaring traces of his Maharashtrian brahminical roots, a glitch he would like to address in future performances. More so as a whole new world of possibilities now beckons him from the Hindi theatre.
Ira Dubey is picture perfect as the rebellion-affected girl of her times (we can almost imagine a Salwar-suited North Indian girl brought on a generous fare of ‘Sarita’ magazine and pet pastimes of weaving-knitting-embroidery) but she’s unduly theatrical at times. Dubey senior and junior sigh and squeal throughout and the sheer monotony of their rants comes in the way of their credible performances. Rajiv is superb as the lethargic and unemployed Ashok whose non-conformism is yet to confirm anything. But his modern looks don’t seem to be in tune with the times. Anuschka Sawhney looks reasonably believable as the spoilt teenager but the script fails to capture the specifics of her school uniformed exploits. We are repeatedly subjected to ear-splitting scenes of the family admonishing her at regular intervals but the context is blurred. The set design is first rate esp. the clothes line, linen, dry leaves and the battered tap and bucket at the entrance. Maybe a radio blaring a 60’s song could have enhanced the period effect.
Dubey’s interpretation is by and large engaging and more important, largely in line with what the script demands. A wonderful actress relegated to inconsequential roles on the big screen, theatre seems tailor-made for her talent and temperament. Kudos to her and the entire team for the Mohan Rakesh treat!