The cost of being a slave to prejudice

‘Apne Ghar Jaisa’ review: a Ranga Shankara production, the Hindi-Marathi play is adapted and directed by Anmol Vellani, and performed by Padmavati Rao and Abhitej Gupta

Padmavati Rao and Abhitej Gupta on stage; ()

By Reema Gowalla

Rating: ****

The play is arresting from the very first scene. A minimal all-white ‘miniature room’ sets the tone for a powerful performance that nudges you to question the future of humanity. There are circles within circles of meaning in Anmol Vellani’s compelling adaptation of Barry Bermange’s curious gem Oldenberg. Apne Ghar Jaisa is the story of a middle-class family in Mumbai, who like most city dwellers in the country today, is renting out a room in their house to help tackle the monthly expenses.

You’ll be filled with compassion the moment you meet Sanju’s mother (played by Padmavati Rao). She fixes her bindi and her red Maharashtrian mulmul saree, as she hems and haws while speaking about a new tenant, who will soon occupy the room upstairs. She ostensibly intends to make this ‘stranger’ feel at home, welcome him into their lives and even make him a part of their family. Her husband is out of town, so she is holding the fort for him by ensuring that she provides the tenant with the best of amenities and a homely atmosphere.

“Mumbai mein aisa ghar milta kahan hai,” she says, while repeatedly arranging and rearranging the room that once belonged to her son. She is grieving but trying to get on with life. The room is all set to welcome the new occupant — there’s a fresh sheet and a towel, a new carpet on the floor, a painting on the wall, a bookshelf, a flower vase and a chair to sit and enjoy the cool evening breeze. But is she really ready to rent it out?

All she knows about this person is that his name is rather unusual — Shakeen (played by Abhitej Gupta) — and that he sounded quite polite when he spoke to her husband over the phone. Blame the lack of information about Shakeen, but Sanju’s mother keeps falling in and out of the trap of conjectures about this unfamiliar man, who would soon share the same roof with them. Even before he reaches their doorstep, she has imagined this person as someone who might be a potential threat to their identity, values and personal space.

Image credit: Mythili P

This unwittingly exposes the tussle between her inner self and the one she shares with her milieu, reflecting the prejudices (particularly, in cultural contexts) that we as a society nurture against people we ‘don’t know much about’ (in this case, the immigrants). One after the other, she inadvertently reels off nuggets of biases that are deep-rooted and unfounded in equal measures. While doing so, she treats the audience as a confidante and even assumes that they will agree with her.

“Humein koi farak nahi padta, par log chhoti soch wale hain…” — becomes an excuse that lays bare our own dichotomy and complicity. So much so that despite the practicalities and struggles of everyday life, we remain slaves to stereotypes and averse to inclusivity. She illustrates the people who are so blinded by prejudice and discrimination that they fail to even acknowledge these as barriers to social inclusion.

Image credit: Mythili P

Symbolism is a crucial aspect of the play. The scenographic impact of perspective impels you to think beyond what is there in front of your eyes, which is, perhaps, also the intention of the play. The approach and treatment of the piece is layered, as sitting in the audience you find yourself traipsing around the dark corners of human complexities and social idiosyncrasies. Poignant and profound, it’ll take a while for you to comprehend the politics of the play in its entirety.

The deliberate attempt to break the concept of ‘unity of space’ is evident when you move from act one to act two in the 60-minute performance. Light design (by Bharavi and Arun DT) and background score (designed by Poorvi Kalyani and Rahul S) complement the narrative technique. The set (originally designed by Rency Philip) deserves a special mention.

The best part about Apne Ghar Jaisa? Padmavati, of course. She stuns with her extraordinary performance as a mother in despair, who keeps slipping away from her real self into becoming a representative of our samaj. Her character travels back and forth in time, shrouded in a world of assumptions and ill-conceived notions, becoming more and more suspicious of the ‘other’. Although discrimination and social biases — based on one’s gender, religion, caste and place of origin — comprise the focal point of the narrative, it is also a story about loss, trauma and grief. And Padmavati has aptly portrayed the vulnerabilities of both these broad aspects. Being the only other actor beside her on stage, Abhitej too does a fairly good job. In fact, his character is sort of an eye-opener for all of us.

Apne Ghar Jaisa premiered at the Ranga Shankara Theatre Festival 2022. More shows of the play are to be announced soon.

Image credit: Mythili P



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