Bravely Fought the Queen: Dramatic Craftsmanship
Mahesh Dattani makes daring efforts to depict quite unconventional and radical themes in his plays. The complexities of human relationship and predicament of the modern man find due expression in his dramatic works. His dramatic techniques and stagecraft are superb. There are rapid shifts in terms of time and space. He has made use of different images, symbols, devices, techniques etc. to communicate his ideas in a very effective and concrete manner. In the plays of Dattani multi-level stage plays a vital role. It helps in connecting the past with present and also contains certain symbols which indicate inner workings of the minds of the characters.
The script of Bravely Fought the Queen is in three acts, titled ‘Women’, ‘Men’, and ‘Free For All’. The claustrophobic ‘female’ world of Act I is pitted against the ‘male’ world of business of Act II and the characters stand exposed in Act III where the two worlds clash and collapse, with the home as the site of the battle. The fissure between the conventional and current cultures having thrown up a new social landscape, the play races towards a brave culmination laying bare the gruesome truths that lie behind the pretence of conservative Indian morality. Questions of gender, sexuality and identity are raised and the unspoken is voiced, the unseen made visible.
The dramatic setting coalesces with the themes. The trademark Dattani stage often uses the various levels to create theatrical resonance in a special way. For instance, the level where Baa is placed remains a constant in all the three acts, and the time shifts that occur in terms of her memory carries the audience back and forth in time even as the present seems to parody the past. The men play their part in the office in Act II, even as repeat performances of what has already ensued in Act I continues at the other levels. Such repetitive devices serve to undercut the issue itself and reveal the façade as just that – a façade. The prosperous business family, the Trivedis, is finally stripped of its veneer and everyone stands exposed to unpalatable realities of abuse, alcoholism, adultery and homosexuality as fallout of the war on the home front.
Symbolism plays an important role in this play in bringing home what the playwright wants to convey. The bonsai Lalitha brings as a gift for Dolly becomes a central symbol in the play. It represents a cruel miniaturization of a free spirit. The symbol begs for a comparison with the situation of women in the Indian scenario – also under grown and stunted in terms of the development of their independent identities. No wonder that both Dolly and Alka appreciate the bonsai. Yet another bonsai seen on Sridhar’s desk is described as “odd” and “grotesque”, surely pointing to its basic unnaturalness. What has been accepted (and even found attractive) by the women seems odd in the sphere of the men who have never been restricted or manipulated. Almost all the characters in the play are made to comment on the bonsai in a deliberate attempt at drawing parallels.There are a host of other symbols and imageries. The young cook projected as Dolly’s lover, the face mask, Baa’s bell and wheelchair etc. are the imageries used for expressing some thoughts and ideas in the play. Dattani gives us images which could only be created in theatre.
Dattani employs a range of theatrical techniques successfully. The multi-layered reality in the play - suggested by the split stage - moves constantly into an internalized reality, as it was. Dattani writes with a dexterously veiled acidity, employing a language that uses both simplicity and serration, pressing the word to its limits, flanked by equally pungent, loaded silences. Dattani’s theatrical craftsmanship has been compared to Ibsen’s. Bravely Fought the Queen dramatizes the emptiness and sham in the lives of its cloistered women and self-indulgent, unscrupulous men, blurring the lines between fantasy and reality, standing on the brinks of terrible secrets, deception and hypocrisies.