Woman power: Ibsen strikes a chord in India (With Image)

December 22nd, 2008 - 11:01 am ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Dec 22 (IANS) Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen’s female characters are not just Western stereotypes. They transcend boundaries to symbolise the dilemmas and emancipation of contemporary women who could well belong to India.And this was evident at the 10-day Delhi Ibsen Festival, which ended Dec 20 with plays and workshops interpreting the celebrated 19th century writer in the South Asian context.

“Bringing Ibsen to the strong woman in India has been very successful project. I am impressed by the intellectual knowledge and IQ of the modern Indian woman - which is also a fundamental challenge in this era of gender trouble,” Ann Ollestad, the Norwegian ambassador to India, told IANS.

“Indian society is filled with differences because of the differences in development in every state. There is a variety in living standards in this country which makes it a point of departure.”

The Royal Norwegian Embassy in collaboration with the Dramatic Art and Design Academy organised the festival.

Women form the core of Ibsen’s literary genres - plays, many of which are social commentaries on marriage and the relationship between the man and the woman of his time.

“Lady From The Sea”, “When We Dead Awaken”, “Little Eyolf” were some of the plays that were staged.

But the highlight was “Ibsen’s Women-Put An Eagle In A Cage” - a radical portrayal by Norwegian actress Juni Dahr, who selected six of the playwright’s most powerful characters for her stage capsule.

Among these was Nora of the play “Doll’s House” who lives an ordinary, “happy” life as lawyer Torvald Helmer’s wife with whom she has three children. Her aim in life is to be a homemaker who wishes nothing other than pleasing her husband.

Years ago, Nora had borrowed money from Krogstad and forged a signature. When Torvald comes to know of it, he reacts with rage and blames Nora’s lineage for not teaching her to be thrifty. Krogstad later blackmails Nora into helping him keep his job at a bank. Nora, fearing a backlash at home, decides to “enter the world herself”.

She is typically Indian and Western in her role as the one who sacrifices - only to be taken to task for it later. And she is forced to seek freedom.

“Ibsen’s Women” was first performed at Yale University in April 1989. The play was nominated as the best one act play, “Scenario 89″, in Oslo.

“I think Ibsen’s likeness of women is not different from any of us - or the Indian woman. I see so many similarities between myself and those women that I wonder how could Ibsen know so much about them,” said Dahr, a veteran stage and screen actress based in Oslo, who played all the characters.

Dahr often chooses to perform at non-traditional locations in Norway as well as abroad and she often performs alone on stage. The actress strives for intimacy and directness in her performances. Her breakthrough as an individual artist happened in 1988 in the US when she staged “Joan of Arc”.

Dahr was accompanied by Chris Poole, a rhythmic and innovative flute player from Denmark.

According to Dahr, Ibsen reveals a deep understanding of women.

“Through his characters he makes us experience our own lives. He is the genius who tempts us to explore his women looking for essence, the source, the spirit that makes these female characters so fascinating even today,” she said.

Ibsen chose women to portray the “will to freedom and uproar against social conventions and restraints”.

To Ibsen, freedom meant living unrestrained by false pretences and facades. He believed only free human beings could reach their full potential and find happiness, but claimed traditional gender roles were robbing women of their sense of self, Dahr said.

She herself takes a slightly pro-man stand though. “Nobody cares what happened to Torvald,” she said. “I always wondered what happened to the Doll’s Struggle and where did Nora go?” Dahr said.

“Ibsen could identify with women and used them to express some of the conflicts in his own life. They were very existential questions - women did not have the right to vote and in reality, till now, we have a long way to go. There is a lot of violence against women. But despite that there has been progress,” the actress said.

And the crowd of Indian women - both young and old who watched the play - could not but agree.

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