Beli Basnet arrives from Gangtok at her sister Tara’s flat in Bagbajar and has no choice but to share a congested apartment with her abusive brother-in-law Shankar. The elder Beli weaves elaborate tales about her being in town and the couple find out the sisters’ ancestral lands have all been sold off to cover hospital fees of their family. As Beli’s coiffured sensibilities come in conflict with Shankar’s brutish ways, they do each other irreparable damage and she is forced to retreat to her world of dreams, or what remains of it.
Tennessee Williams’ iconic play, A Streetcar Named Desire, enjoyed successful stage performances in the late 1940s, with the likes of Jessica Tandy, Marlon Brando, and Anthony Quinn in lead roles, and was even made into three films. In the Nepali version, Swapnamahal, the impatient and urban landscape of New Orleans to which the sisters’ sprawling family lands belong, is replaced by their dream of owning a ‘palace of dreams’.
To realise this dream, they aspire to make it big on silver screen. But after an unsuccessful early marriage, Beli returns from Bombay to Sikkim with no stardom to show for and teaches English for a living. Tara and Shankar, it is learned, were also in the film industry but now make music videos after their first and only film bombed at the box office.
While the couple grudgingly accepts the limits of their success, Beli still has delusions of grandeur and uses mock-sophistication - elaborate clothes, expensive perfume, and beauty regimes - to mask ageing, alcoholism, and a fading shot to stardom that never existed.
Melodrama breaks out in the cramped Bagbajar apartment. Beli’s delusions are reassured by the woe-be-me adhunik Nepali music as she lapses between dream and reality, speaking Bollywood Hindi of the films of her imagination but still accusing Shankar of being an Indian.
The class difference in the original play is replaced here by caste. To Beli, Shankar is the outsider, the rogue, the carnal and apish “Madisey”. But as the cloistered world of Nepali society is left in tatters after the end of the Panchayat, Beli’s arrogance catches up with her and she loses the respect of all her allies, including her sister.
Starting with Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge, Freelancers Nepal’s third effort Swapnamahal does not disappoint.
Written by Tennessee Williams
Directed by Eelum Dixit
Translated by Samuna KC
Cast: Samuna KC, Sarita Giri, Pramod Agrahari, Bikram Singh Tharu
Rs 200, runs till 18 August, all week except Mondays,
Mandala Theatre, Anamnagar,