3-9 June 2016 #811


Yuma comes as a breath of fresh air, with a mostly female ensemble re-enacting a story revolving around gender roles in society.
Someplace Else by Sahina Shrestha

Under the able direction of Srijana Subba, it’s the women who take centre stage in Yuma, currently being staged at Mandala Theatre. In a theatre scene where strong female characters are often conspicuously lacking, Yuma comes as a breath of fresh air, with a mostly female ensemble re-enacting a story revolving around gender roles in society.

In Limbu mythology Yuma is the ancestral goddess, the ever-powerful and nurturing mother of the universe and the teacher of civilisation, who was a rebel. In a male-dominated world where women are relegated to the back seat, she represents the power of everyday women. In the play, the audience encounters women who seek and finally find their individual identities and freedom in spheres where patriarchy reigns.

As the lights dim and the hall comes alive with music, the audience is introduced to five women – Yuma, Manji, Khusbu, Tanuja and Ruby, each with her own distinct personality and life story – walking the stage and dancing to the beat.

Yuma (Subba) is a wife and a mother struggling to come to terms with accusations and abuse from her suspicious and controlling husband Sundar (Sulakshan Bharati), who is employed abroad. She yearns to escape from his stifling and relentless dominance over her, but is initially too meek to take the first step.

Manji (Pashupati Rai) is a guerilla-turned-communist lawmaker. She was married to another communist guerilla during the war but got divorced as societal and familial pressure built up against their inter-caste marriage.

Khusbu (Sarita Sah) is a soft-spoken, former Kamlari who was enslaved by a judge. Finally free, she longs to return to her family after making something of her life. Together with Ruby (Ranjana Oli), a young student, they run the Ladies Corner – a quaint little café, where women can speak and move without restraint.

The entire play takes place in one set – the café – which has a separate table reserved for men, symbolising from the very beginning that it is the women who rule the roost here. The story picks up pace with the introduction of Rangeen Raag (Ankit Khadka), a charming, flirtatious musician smitten with Yuma. As the two slowly find lust (and perhaps share love), the sub-plot delves into the interplay between the female characters and Lokesh (Jiwan Bhattarai), a lawyer trying to help Tanuja (Kenipa Singh) break away from her cruel and abusive husband.

Whether it is Yuma leaving both her husband and her lover to live an independent life, or Tanuja finally having the courage to retaliate against her husband, the play brings to light the plight of the wives of migrant workers, and draws attention to the oft-suppressed realities of domestic violence and slavery.

What saves the play from being a clichéd attempt at defining or glorifying female liberation is the presentation of the story by the director and actors. First-time director Subba not only plays the eponymous character with finesse, but has selected the actors commendably; their roles appear tailored for each of them. Rai’s portrayal of Manji Rana Magar, the idealistic communist, is noteworthy, as are the performances by Bharati and Singh, who shine despite their short stage time.

Writer Yug Pathak gives the audience characters and a story that are accessible and thought-provoking, but the occasionally dense and literary dialogue tended to weigh down the play.

From the use of Silamsakma as doors in the set, to stories on Shahbaz, the royal falcon, and the apt use of music, the audience gains a subtle introduction to Limbu culture.

All in all, Yuma is a laudable attempt, by women, to showcase the daily realities of women’s lives.

Director: Srijana Subba

Writer: Yug Pathak

Cast: Srijana Subba, Pashupati Rai, Ankit Khadka, Sulakshan Bharati, Jiwan Bhattarai, Laxmi Bardewa, Kenipa Singh, Sarita Sah, Sandesh Lamichhane, Ranjana Oli and Binita Gurung

Duration: 80 minutes

Mandala Theatre, runs till 12 June (except Mondays), 5.15pm (additional show on Saturdays at 1pm), Rs 300

(Rs 200 for students), 014249761