Of waves and shores

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Rohini Hattangadi impresses in her new play Samantar

Just as waves run parallel to the shore, so does the relationship between aging parents and their upwardly mobile children, as depicted in Rohini Hattangadi’s recent Hindi play Samantar.

The highly acclaimed theatre actress from India was in Australia recently playing the lead role in a local production directed and produced by Prashant Tupe from Perth.

Performing live for the first time in Australia, Rohini travelled to Perth, Sydney and Melbourne with a group of local Indian Australian artistes who shared stage with the experienced actress.

Rohini Hattangadi, an Indian theatre, film and television actress, won international recognition and the BAFTA award (Best Actress in a Supporting Role) for playing Kasturba in Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi.

Among her notable performances were roles in Mahesh Bhatt’s Arth and Saaransh, Govind Nihalani’s The Party, Amitabh Bachchan’s Agneepath and her solo theatre act Aparajita. She has appeared in over 80 films, mainly in character or supporting roles. She has carved her own niche in the theatre scene in India.

During her performance in Melbourne, Rohini’s talent clearly outshone the less experienced actors; however, Prashant Tupe as the other lead in Samantar offered a commendable performance and held his own besides the skillful actress.

The story, written by Sanjay Patole from Perth, takes the audience through a fairly realistic scenario where two elderly parents uproot themselves to migrate to Australia and live with their children, and the subsequent dilemma faced by them as they are pulled between love, duty and self-respect.

As the drama unfolds, there are tears, alienation, unmet expectations and emotional upheavals in the lives of the parents. The children, on the other hand, are depicted as remarkably insensitive, occupied with their careers and view their parents as an economic burden.

The narrative could become one-sided with its focus mainly on the parents’ anxieties over the children’s filial obligations or their strained capacity to provide care. The usage of the phrase ‘I want my space’ often appears through the play with different interpretations based on which side of the equation it is being perceived.

As the play was held on a weekday evening it didn’t seem to attract an especially large audience, but those that made the effort to brave Melbourne’s winter to watch the famous actress were not disappointed. The location was changed the night before from Robert Blackwood Hall to the more intimate setting of Alexander Theatre at Monash University.

Samantar creates a subtle comparison between the traditional doctrines of filial piety traditionally common in the East, and the demands of a Western lifestyle with allegiance to the elderly albeit with an incline towards individual freedom. The play ends with the parents making a choice that is not an end but a new beginning.

To quote Rohini at a crucial point during the play, “Children are like waves whilst parents are the shores. Every time the waves reach for the shores, they receive a warm caress. However their paths run parallel and eventually the waves recede, such is life.”