Symbol is a powerful means of communication in literary work. Mahesh Dattani excels in art and craft of symbolic exuberances and imagery. The play Bravely Fought the Queen is moulded by craft of imagery or symbolism. The play repletes with rich symbols, imagery, rhythm, sound etc.
The title itself is symbolic. The Queen in the title of the play refers to the legendary warrior queen Rani Lakshmibai of Jhansi. Alka, the much trodden-upon younger daughter-in-law in the Trivedi family, dreamily identifies with the Rani of Jhansi and longs to put on the costume of the Queen at the masquerade ball being planned. She attempts to rebel against the claustrophobic atmosphere in her home where she is virtually a prisoner. She has been tricked into marriage with a closet homosexual (her sister’s brother-in-law) by her brother (who has been his partner). She has already been thrown out of the house once due to the machinations of her mother-in-law and is in peril of a repetition now. At the end, she bravely fights back.
The bonsai Lalitha brings as a gift for Dolly becomes a central symbol in the play. The bonsai represents a cruel miniaturization of a free spirit. As Lalitha explains innocently and gleefully to Dolly, it involves minimizing the amount of earth that the plant has to grow in, pruning its stem and branches and regularly snipping its roots so that its growth becomes stunted. The dwarfed plant is an artificial creation of human will. It may appear beautiful to some but it is a deformed plant. 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. Lalitha points out that the plant gets habituated to its changed ethos and accepts it and moulds itself to it. This is the sad situation of women socially conditioned by their men folk over the ages. The bonsai is meant for Dolly, thus associating its symbolism with her. It is also appreciated by Alka, thus pointing to her situation too. 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. Daksha, the spastic child of Dolly and Jiten, is an obvious parallel to the stunted and dwarfish bonsai, a deformed child born in pain due to violence inflicted upon her mother.
The interpolated tale of Kanhaiya, the alluring cook, also functions as the potent symbol which denotes disappointment, emptiness and trauma in the women of the Trivedi household. The young cook projected as Dolly’s lover, is merely a figment of her imagination. Apart from this, the face mask, Baa’s bell and wheelchair etc. are the imageries used for expressing some thoughts and idea in the play. The failure of ReVa Tee advertisement symbolizes that the men have failed to understand and recognize the feminine self and equity as human being.
In Act I and in Act III Dolly has Naina Devi’s thumri playing. The symbolism of Naina Devi’s bold decision to sing love songs usually the preserve of tawaifs is central to the play. Dolly tells Lalitha that she married into royalty but still chose to sing like a tawaif. She would surely have been marginalized by society but the wonderful thing is that her husband supported her. Together, they faced all the social ostracism and reproofs that came their way until finally she came to be celebrated as the queen of thumri.
The title of the third and final act, “Free for All” is very symbolic and suggestive. There is a free flow of emotions and passion, anger and hatred, blaming and counter blaming. The women express, assert, and move freely in this act. Dattani presents a kind of familial court in which contention and counter contention takes place till the truth is revealed. The Trivedi brothers are dismissed as scheming and gay, violent and unfaithful. The dramatist disproves the idea of varied spaces for man and woman showing them human beings equal in all respects.
Thus symbolism plays a crucial role in Bravely Fought the Queen to bring home the entire gamut of meaning and implications to the audience.