To the mothers of Delhi
Actor-director Sohaila Kapur’s new play, ‘Kuch Life Jaisa’, may make Delhi think about changing family dynamics and the static expectations from mothers.
Motherhood is complicated and hard. In India, it is more so as it is often associated with divinity and one-dimensionality. Most people, including a woman’s own children, forget to remember that she is an individual even if she is a mother. Veteran actor-director-playwright Sohaila Kapur explores all of this in her play Kuch Life Jaisa to be performed at the Indian Habitat Centre today.
With a diverse population in Delhi, Kapur believes that the theme is universal though not discussed, and it is extremely relevant to a city that has witnessed changing family dynamics. “In cities like Delhi, a large chunk of joint families has transitioned into nuclear ones. Children have become open to concepts of desire, passion and live-ins. But what if the mother wants to experience all of these? Would her children accept it? I think many here will relate to that,” she says.
The play, written and directed by Kapur, traces the life of a single mother with four children, who seek independence after their education and eventually settle down in different places away from her, leaving behind an empty nest. They finally discover their mother at a life-changing moment, when it’s a little too late. Kapur describes Kuch Life Jaisa as a study of many single women who are widows, separated or divorced. “When these women become empty nesters, what happens to them? The play sheds light on the attitude of her children towards her. The mother has had to make several sacrifices to be able to elevate them and make possible their going abroad. Do they not have any responsibility towards their mother? The play is about that,” she says, pointing out that it essentially maps the relationship between a single mother and her children.
A single mother herself, Kapur took note of multiple examples of empty nesters she encountered over the years. From her single friends to her housekeeper. It became apparent to her that an Indian mother was always expected to adhere to tradition, even by her own children. “My housekeeper’s children are now working abroad. She is now in Nepal, alone, hoping to be called by one of them and knowing their spouses may not entertain the idea. This may only change when she has grandchildren, who they would expect to be taken care of by her. Conventions will not allow her to have a companion. This is when they sit home and mope. Some from this age group even die by suicide,” the actor says, adding that somewhere, women are still looked at as agents of procreation and not individuals with nuance and complexities.
Kapur’s love for direction rose from the freedom of expression it gave her—to depict socially-driven subjects. The niece of stalwarts such as the legendary Anands – Dev, Anand and Chetan – and sister of filmmaker Shekhar Kapur, she has had a ring-side seat to filmmaking and art. However, she faced several struggles as a woman trying to pursue acting. “As a woman, you’re not as easily accepted. At the time when you’re young and good-looking, they simply give you shallow roles. I did not enjoy them. I began directing then. I thought if I had wanted a change, I needed to do something about it myself,” she says. The actor-director eventually moved to writing; a project of peak creativity for her. “I feel I’m creating several lives and their story. It is a lovely feeling to write and direct. It is entirely your vision. You do what you like with the source material. It’s completely yours, and I think it’s the height of creativity, and I can fully immerse myself in it,” she explains.
Kapur’s passion for her art began during her high school years. “We were in the 10th grade when a few of us, including Feisal Alkazi, Arun Kukreja, and JNU’s Rajiv Bhargava had started Ruchika Theater Group; Alkazi still helms the theatre. We would do theatre professionally and also sell tickets. I remember we used to always have a full house back then. Shri Ram Centre used to loan its basement at the time for a basic fee,” she fondly recounts. Kapur’s future plans include taking up readings in the coming months.
Having pushed the envelope, the actor-director explains she has added more elements to the medium. “Now, artists don’t simply sit and read. I have introduced live music and dance as part of my plays. This has been picked up by people and our shows are booked,” she says. Her next reading is set to be on a Ruskin Bond story in September with elements similar to that of a play. Also on the anvil—another reading of a crime story by Roald Dahl, and she is hoping to end the year with more sounds, dance and music.