Noted theatre personality Suman Mukhopadhyay had first staged the English play Shikhandi in New Jersey in 2022 as the culmination of his work with members of the Indian diaspora, which was conducted as part of a Fulbright fellowship. To be staged this weekend for the first time in India, this performance is a Chetana and ECTA co-production and is presented in collaboration with Kolkata Centre for Creativity.
Written by Sudipta Bhawmik and solo-enacted by Sudipta Majumdar, the play explores concepts of gender identity, struggles and crisis and through these, seeks to investigate the root causes that have caused imbalances in gender equality and dynamics.
Based on the story of Shikhandi from The Mahabharata, the play deftly deals with crucial gender issues that have always existed in society, but have been carefully avoided.
It begins on the 10th day of the war of Kurukshetra. After the day’s battle is done, Shikhandi visits Bhishma in the darkness of the night and finds him lying on a bed of arrows awaiting death. Shikhandi discloses her identity to Bhisma, tells him about her past life as Amba and explains to him why she has waited so long to exact her revenge on him. While doing so, the protagonist also frets and wallows in the quandary of having a female body and of the desire to escape it.
Through the actor’s monologue, Shikhandi’s story of humiliation and revenge becomes the story of every woman who has suffered undeserved insult and injury from men, or even been treated like a commodity to be accepted or rejected by them. Shikhandi’s impassioned speech is like a cry of anger and protest against the injustices committed by men against women. It speaks out against the stranglehold of patriarchy in society that has from time immemorial, prevented women from seeking out their own selves or understanding and actualising their own goals. The complex multiple histories of paternity and power that resulted in the domination, arrogance and cruelty of the male gender, are also sought to be examined and threshed out. Universal in theme and contemporary in style, presentation and relevance, Shikhandi is an exploration of the struggles of anguished women against toxic masculinity. It also expresses with sensitivity the anxieties of queer existence.
Shikhandi will be staged on January 7 at Academy of Fine Arts, 6.30pm and on January 8 at Kolkata Centre for Creativity, Anandapur, 5pm and 6.30pm. Design and direction: Suman Mukhopadhyay.