Man to Man
- Padma Jayaraj, Thrissur
Photos: Ameet Mallapur

September 21, 2006

'Man to Man' tells the poignant tale of the Woman pitted against Man. It is a post-modern production with a strong message that points to the war-torn scenario of our present day reality. The play, put up consecutively for four evenings from 31st August to 3rd September at Goethe-Hall, Max Mueller Bhavan, Mumbai, addresses the international community.

An Industrial Theatre Co. Production, it is a collaborative effort between performer Jyoti Dogra, video artist Tejal Shah, and director Rehaan Engineer. "The text found footage from The Yellow Star - The Persecution of Jews in Europe by Dieter Hildebrandt; Hitler a Career, by Joachim Fest; Un Chant d'amour by Jean Genet; Das Cabinet des Dr Caligari by Robert Wein; Plain Truth by llppo Poljolla; The Shape of the Gaze by Maia Cybelle Carpenter."

Manfred Karge's play 'Man to Man' is staged as a multimedia presentation that caters to the intimacy of an audience, just 30 in number, seated in a circle with four TV sets and two screens on two sides. Within the stage, a trouser and two pairs of footwear, minimalist props, evoke the absurd theatre. Light falls on one woman seated among the audience. "'You can get used to anything in time' as my old dad would say, 'even good news,'" she says. In the immediacy of the stage and the spectators, the play establishes a closeness from the very beginning. And the audience is alerted with an implicit finger pointed to it.

The theme
The play begins in a stifling atmosphere of a male military-dominated land that tries to grapple with the identity of a human being. Then a collage follows intersected by flowing music and expressive lighting. Fairy tales, of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and that of the Queen obsessed with the Magic Mirror, are evoked. "White as snow, red as blood, black as ebony..." in the beginning, at the end and endlessly blinked on the TV screen, create a climate within which the narrative operates.

The locale is specified as part of Germany bordering France. War destroys the childhood and innocence of a girl of seven. The father leaves home; mother falters and falls ill; the burden of housework and later life itself is a cross on a child's shoulder, crushing all her spirits. This is the destiny of a woman in a military-dominated country whether it is Israeli-Arab border, the mullah-reigning troubled space, where autocracy is in control, where terror strikes, or even in India when the State fails. The story of Ella tells how love and romance is alien in such a place. It is cancerous diseases, strenuous work, untimely death, and violent sex that punctuate a woman's existence. Of course she gets used to abject misery; years pass; old age with its loneliness and helplessness is just another period before death calls for the final curtain on her life.

The story
The story unravels itself when Ella Geric, the protagonist in Karge's text assumes the identity of her dead husband. It is for survival that she hides her identity. Poverty drives her to work as a crane operator in Weimar, Germany. Troubled times make life impossible for her. Her strength lies in her ability to endure the test of misery. In another sense here is the story of what Man has done to Woman, an eternal theme since the dawn of human civilisation.

A multi-media production
The play is a one-woman show, a powerful rendering by Jyoti Dogra. The TV screens are effectively used for emphasizing ideas without distracting the attention from the central character. The two screens on two sides project war background from films that echo the times of Napoleon and Hitler. Human lives lived among these traumatised periods, against changing seasons, gives a cinematic dimension. The dialogue between the character on the stage and her persona on the screen is an effective dramatic stroke used to create nuances. The political overtones underline its contemporary relevance. Music, incorporated from masters like, J S Bach, Franz and others, increases the dramatic tempo of the play. Lighting has a lyrical quality. Without obtruding, it enhances the theme in ironic contrast. When the play ends, the picture of the defeated dying army of Napoleon trudging home, the sheer sense of waste captured in Tolstoy's "War and Peace" lingers on the screen on the wall. The unrelieved gloom it creates, that we do not learn from history, that we who put up with injustice are the real perpetrators of the crime, rings loud in our conscience.

Jyoti Dogra has portrayed the suffering and the strength of a woman facing the wall all through her life, with great poignancy. The entire monologue for an hour and half is a powerful recreation of a woman's inner self as she is forced to assume the identity of a man. Stark reality is painted in broad grey strokes in realistic gestures.

Rehaan Engineer, the director, is a co-founder of The Industrial Theater Co. It has been engaged in theatre and film from 2001 onwards. Every production has been lauded by critics and viewers alike. Trained at the RADA, Rehaan Engineer currently lives and works in Mumbai, directing and acting in theatre and film. 'Man to Man' is a wake-up call with a philosophic dimension.

Padma Jayaraj is a freelance journalist. She covers fine arts and travel for The Hindu, and is a regular contributor to