Not Villains But Victims:Poile Sengupta’s

Poile Sengupta is one of the most promising English Playwrights in India today. Her plays are set in Indian situations and contexts. Her well-known plays are Manglam {1993} Inner- Laws {1994} A Pretty Business {1995} Keats Was a Tuber {1996} Alipha {2001} and THUS SPAKE SHOORPANAKHA, SO SAID SHAKUNI {PLAY-2001}
It is a very interesting play because of its technique, theme and treatment. The play deals with characters from two different Epics----the Ramayana and the Mahabharat. We are familiar with the stories of these two Epics. Sengupta brings together two villains from the two different epics:
Shakuni from the Mahabharata and Shoorpanakha from the Ramayana. According to history both are viilains and are responsible for the Wars which took place in both the Epics. Sengupta presents them in a new set up as travelers meet at an airport. Gradually they start talking. From their conversation we come to know that they have been treated wrongly by history. Shakuni tells us how his brothers were being imprisoned and killed by the Kurus.Only Shakuni had survived. He swore revenge upon the Kauravas. His dice was made of his brother’s bones. He played a game of dice on behalf of his nephews and won it.” The five brothers and the wife were exiled for thirteen years….” {271} Shakuni considers himself as a ‘victim’ and an ‘underdog’. He believes that the Kurus ‘cheated us.’ The marriage of GHANDHARI with a Blind Man ignites the fire of revenge in him. For Shakuni revenge or vengeance is more important. He speaks:”nothing else is important… Not my nephews… not me… Finally… not even my sister… I wanted to turn everything to Dust. Dust and Ashes.”{269} He continued to instigate his nephews not to forget their hate. He coaxed their hatred, fed it, and inflamed it and finally there was war. In this way Shakuni started the war and got the Pandava brothers to kill all the Kurus. It is a ‘political vengeance’.
To Shakuni the Kurus were ‘conspirators’ as they ‘violated all human rights.’{278} Shakuni rings ‘Destruction’ and ‘Annihilation’ through war which has its roots in ‘Hate’. This feeling of hate has been created in Shakuni’s character because he ‘hadn’t been given his due.’ Therefore’ he was a victim –an under dog.’[p276]

Shoorpanakha is another epical character. She is a vamp with dark complexion. Sengupta presents her as a ‘Beautiful’… sexy… and Hot.’
Shoorpanakha represents a single woman. She expresses her intense passionate desire for male companionship without any fear or shame. Such a woman is a threat to the male world. Hence she is described as ‘an enchantress’,’ the’ vamp ‘and the demoness. She is a rakshasy who must be controlled /punished before she can upset the patriachal set up. A single woman who expresses her sexuality/sexual desires is branded as a fallen Woman. Society practices double standards-man can expresses his sexual desires freely it is considered as normal and natural but for a single woman it is profane and immoral. Such a behaviour is to be kept in check and control.
Sengupta recreates the epical Shoorpanakha in to a New Woman of substance. Here we find SHOORPANAKHA who considers herself belonging to ‘the mighty asura clan’. Her complexion is dark, swarthy. She is tall and big with a fine breasts and hips. She is aware of human laws-when her nose and ears are chopped off- she called the two brothers as ‘Violators’ and their act as an assault on ‘defenceless woman.’{P278} Her prime motive of life is to get love-‘Shoorpanakha merely wanted love.’ {p277}As a woman she has a right to love man. She fell in love with a married man. Her sexual desire possessed her to such an extent that she ‘wanted him to tear my clothes off and tear through.’ {pp. 256-257}She wants love of man to a point of an ecstasy that ‘the rest of the world disappears?’{252} Shoorpanakha didn’t get any response of her love. The two brothers,’ Laughed at me. They teased me. Mocked me….
They tossed me this way and that…..As if I was… a broken plaything.’{261} She asks “was it so wrong to tell a man’ I love you?’ For her wrong she is punished. Her ears and nose are ‘chopped ff.’ Even showing off her breasts and thrusting out her hips weren’t noticed, responded .Instead
“they chopped off her breasts.”{278] Shoorpanakha endures her physical ‘hurt’-pain silently. Even though she was ‘wailing’ ’raging’ and ‘sobbing’, she wanted to ‘lie under him’. Unlike SHAKUNI’S revenge or political vengeance, Shoorpanakha “wanted love…just a little love…for a little while.”{p262} Her love is-unrequited love- one. It is a great pity that she has to pay a great price of her own self. She tells Shakuni “Your sister lost only her sight. I lost myself…I LOST ME. [P267} This loss of self brings a drastic change in her attitude. It wipes out her ill feelings of revenge.
Through the theme of love Sengupta transforms Shoorpanakha in to a saintly woman who has ‘forgotten how he hurt me. …I CAN’T HURT ANYONE ANYMORE. I have lost the need to hurt….’{p267] But Shoorpanakha doesn’t consider herself as a saint She speaks:”I am a woman, A woman. Not a saint. Not a whore.Not just a mother,a sister,a daughter.Iam a woman.”{p267
Shoorpanakha ‘s womanly qualities makes her character a humaine and natural.Shakuni at the end of the play tries to throw bomb and wishes to kill a lot of innocent people. But Shoorpanakha dissuades Shakuni from provoking another blood bath. Sengupta presents the two villains from the two Epics as victims but they struggle very hard to redeem themselves from their murky pasts.The play elicits sympathy for the villains of the Epics. The villains are humanized in depth and detail that they look more as ‘victims’.


Reference :
THUS SPAKE SHOORPANAKHA, SO SAID SHAKUNI {PLAY-2001} From the book ‘Women on Centre Stage’ Poile Sengupta

Prof. Mukesh R. Vyas
Asso. Professor (English Dept.)
Gujarat Arts and Commerce college Evening Ahmedabad
Special Interest : American Literature/Feminism/Feminist Theatre.

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