The bed with shifting shades of rajai made centrestage- almost as a common denominator binding the three short stories in one space and time. The selected titles- “Chui Mui” (Touch-Me-Not), “Mughal Bachcha” (Mughal Child) and “Gharwali” (The Wife) all centred around the woman’s body, its vulnerabilities, its strength, its playfulness as well as its resilience. Thus, the bed served as a great locus for issues related to conception, virginity, childbirth, sexual fidelity and marital sex.
The form of dastangoi did not only take the audience back to 1930s and 40s when Chughtai, a key member of the Progressive Writers’ Movement, but also to the traditional form of oral storytelling. The oral narrative lends a nuanced and subtle element to theater. The singular presence of the narrator elicits an immense attention on the quality, range, pitch and tone of the voice or voices. For instance, the contrast between the male voice of Kale miyaan and the female voice of Gori Bi captures the undertones of dominance and resistance. Yet, each of these stories create a distinct mood, which is more a reflection of the actor playing the dastango. Heeba Shah’s “Chui Mui” was intense and pensive while Ratna Pathak Shah’s “Mughal Bachcha” never let go of the tone of humor and pulled out the moment a piece of dialogue reached the periphery of the grave. A mere touch-and-go with the reflective and yet, communicating critiquing and subverting patriarchy within the Mughal context of royalty and loss of power. Naseeruddin Shah’s “Gharwali” became gender fluid when the male voice and body emulated the feminine and when that femininity spilled over to the male Mirza sahib dialogues too. I only hope that this literary insight and theatrical sharpness crosses over the Prithvi stage and reaches to the masses as well.