Broken Images – A Review

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Watching seasoned stage actor Shabana Azmi in the role of Girish Karnad’s Manjula in “Broken Images” was more poignant in the wake of Karnad’s recent demise. The hour-long soliloquy by Shabana, the sole performer, lays bare the story of three intertwined lives which are shaped by destiny, tragedy and propinquity. The multilayered texturing of the characters leaves no clear boundaries of black or white or even grey for the audience to ‘take sides’, giving us an insight into the depths of Karnad’s understanding of the human psyche.

Manjula, a mediocre professor of Hindi literature, is also a writer whose debut novel written (surprisingly) in English is taking the literary world by storm. Critically acclaimed and much-feted, her basking in her own fame borders on self-congratulatory arrogance. When quizzed about her choice of language, she is dismissive of the sceptics (why not English, she scoffs). Breezily insouciant about her inspiration and the almost autobiographical content, she reluctantly reveals the existence of a physically challenged sister (recently deceased) who was born with myelomeningocele and whose primary care-giver Manjula was, after the demise of her parents.

This ode to her own opus is interrupted by the sudden appearance of a figure who eerily looks exactly like Manjula. The mysterious doppelganger confidently proceeds to challenge Manjula‘s story, question the very foundations of Manjula’s claims and interestingly enough, seems to know a lot( perhaps too much?) about Manjula’s past and present. Manjula, irate, shaken and angered in turn, tries to throw down the gauntlet and question this person, but instead succeeds in unmasking her insecurities and personal tragedy.

Ignored and sidelined by her own parents in favour of the “needy, handicapped” younger sister, Manjula reveals that she was farmed out to grandparents during her childhood and adolescence. Her yearning for the affection, even attention of her own parents was constantly thwarted by their absorption in the younger sister. After their deaths, Manjula was stricken by the realisation that her parents had willed everything to her sister. When the wheelchair-bound sister moved into Manjula’s marital home, Manjula’s resentment was compounded by the easy friendship that sprang up between her sister and husband. The erudite discussions, seemingly intimate talks and almost-lover-like squabbles between these two, conducted in English, managed to exclude the Hindi-conversant Manjula. Indeed, they made Manjula feel like the third party in her own marital home, and thus, once more the perpetual outsider. Aware that her husband was committing verbal and emotional adultery with her sister makes Manjula feel a hatred towards her fair and prettier, though disadvantaged sister.

This morass of long-held resentment, forbidden passions and festering bitterness does not end with the death of Manjula’s sister. Instead comes a shocking revelation and the play moves to an unexpected climax.  

Directed by Alyque Padamsee, this play has been performed many times all over the world to much acclaim. The doppelganger Manjula who pops up on the video screen is a masterstroke of the writer and director.  She has to be appeased by the ‘real-time’ Manjula with respect to her questions and answers, precise timing and emotional responsiveness. The actual burden of this tight rope walk falls to Azmi who shoulders it with apparent ease.

The real issue the play manages to address is that of a family with a member who has special needs. Such a family has different dynamics, even for the ‘normal’ members. Does a person stop needing affection and attention because of their apparent normalcy? Is emotional infidelity less hurtful than physical? Lastly, can one truly escape the punishing lashes of one’s conscience?   

One cannot help, but wonder if the sister who was wronged by destiny and resentful as a consequence, was right in seizing what came her way or was Manjula who was cheated of her rightful share, because of circumstance, the wronged one? 

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About the author

Dr Ujwala Shenoy Karmarkar is an anaesthetist by profession and lives and practises in Mumbai. She loves writing and writes short stories, featured articles related to medicine and also reviews plays in her spare time. Currently, she is engaged in enthusiastically ticking off her bucket list.

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Comments

  • Sangeeta Sawant parelkar October 12, 2019 at 2:50 pm
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    Well written Ujwala. I think everyone has disability, either physical or emotional. Resentment, feeling sorry for oneself or others are projections of personalities. There is no running away from it

    Reply
    • Dr. Ujwala Karmarkar October 14, 2019 at 1:06 am
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      True. Life is ever a test of one’s abilities to be steadfast in face of such challenges

      Reply
  • Parinda October 12, 2019 at 3:33 pm
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    Beautifully explained the complex interplay between the characters. Enjoyed reading the review.

    Reply
    • Dr. Ujwala Karmarkar October 14, 2019 at 2:56 am
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      Enjoyed watching this play with you and our other friends.
      Thank you for reading.

      Reply
  • Dr Sunil R Vaze October 12, 2019 at 3:43 pm
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    Well written Dr Karmarkar. !
    The best from you.

    Next time the play runs, we are sure to watch it.
    We are sure it would be an engrossing play. Ujwala ‘s review makes us feel so.

    Well scripted, UK !!!!

    Reply
    • Dr. Ujwala Karmarkar October 14, 2019 at 2:55 am
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      Thank you for your kind words.

      Reply
  • Shailendra Solanki October 13, 2019 at 2:15 am
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    Aptly summarised review that gives insight about the play. Complexity of human mind and relationships has always inspired authors, actors, readers and viewers.

    Have been fortunate to be a collegue of Dr Ujwala. This facet of her personality is perhaps not known to many..

    Best wishes

    Shailendra Solanki

    Reply
    • Dr. Ujwala Karmarkar October 14, 2019 at 1:08 am
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      Thank you, Solanki.
      Do watch the play. We can discuss nuances of the play and review amply again.

      Reply

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