While the incidence of interracial dating and exogamous marriages has definitely gone up in the past decade or so, the acceptance of such relationships is still fraught with complexities of social psychology and ingrained racial prejudices.
In a radical departure from her previous writing style, Nishi Chawla has created a Bollywood masala kind of play that examines causal factors that make up romantic interracial relationships. The play is in two acts.
Nishi Chawla's short plays, "Mercy" and "The Strange Case of Normalcy" focus on the body-mind nexus.
"Mercy" addresses the issue of AIDS and how it reflects the indifference and apathy of society at large, even as the AIDS victim suffers isolation, rejection, and discrimination at best. MERCY dramatizes a series of situations where an AIDS afflicted Indian father finds himself rejected by his wife and friends. His only daughter is his only ray of hope as she tends to his needs so selflessly that she wrecks her own relationship with her boyfriend. The play also exposes the shabby truth of the Indian medical community that mistreats poor patients or those who are unable to pay for their exorbitant medical expenses.
"The Strange Case of Normalcy" is a subtle examination of how each of us lives on the edge of normality while we construct an illusion of "the normal" by which we define ourselves. All of us strive to appear to be 'normal' and pretend to be 'average' and 'normal' even as the boundaries blur.
Nishi Chawla's seventh play is an examination of Winston Churchill's role in the East and that has been extensively researched and documented. While Churchill has been revered in the west and glorified as a hero, he has also been held responsible for several purported misdoings committed in the former colonies of the British Empire. The play examines the hidden ramifications and meaning behind some historically documented research.
The first act is set in Africa, the second in India (Churchill and Gandhi in one scene of course!), and the final act in the Middle East.
The play was first staged on Nov 2, 2019, at the Kreeger Auditorium in Rockville, Maryland, USA.
The play uses one of the well-known women figure's life to examine the institution of arranged marriage. Draupadi has been considered a rather unfortunate but fascinating character in the Indian epic, The Mahabharata. Several different versions and and interpretations concerning her character and her personality have been associated with her. Nishi Chawla’s play takes excerpts from the story of Draupadi as known to everybody and adds imaginative sequences that bring out the real essence of the association between Draupadi and modern women. The subtle re-rendering and juxtaposition makes the play an imaginative retelling of crucial episodes from Draupadi's life. Draupadi was doomed to marry five brothers, and in the dramatic exchange between Draupadi and her five husbands, Nishi Chawla hopes to explore the dynamics of marriage as an economic and social barter system where the role of romantic love is either diminished or interrogated.
Nishi Chawla's fourth play, was first staged in July 2018, at the Washington D.C. Capital Fringe Festival, as well as elsewhere in the Washington D.C. metro area, USA. It has also been staged several times in New Delhi, India.
Nishi Chawla's play titled “Indira” focuses on some personal aspects of the life of the former Prime Minister of India, Indira Gandhi. She explores Indira Gandhi’s life in phases, from her childhood (which reveals some of the most core elements of her personality), to womanhood, to older age and her death. She hopes to offer a glimpse into a more personal Indira Gandhi, including her vulnerabilities and her raw spots. She tries to attribute her decisions—many unpopular—to the double-edged sword that is idealism. Finally, she has tried to dissect a female leader for who she is and how she is perceived. Nishi Chawla believes that female leadership is a unique animal, viciously scrutinized for its inability to fit the historic mold of male-dominated institutions. She has tried to make Indira a human being, and in so doing, expose the doubles standards we apply to women in leadership. However, as a playwright, her primary emphasis remains on making her reader/audience re-examine the dynamics of Idealism as a philosophical concept. Nishi Chawla has also rejuvenated the concept of the Chorus that she has used for her own creative purposes in her play. The Chorus comments on the action as well as offers a unique lens on the life and personality of Indira.
The play was premiered by Global Performing Arts in the Washington D.C. metro area in Fall 2015. It has been successfully staged in Hindi in 2019 in New Delhi, India, by award winning theatre personality, Shilpi Marwaha.
In a male-dominated society that expected women to obey several unwritten rules of decorum, a woman who chose to speak her mind and not abide by such standards would certainly be considered revolutionary and defiant. Kasturba, the wife of the famous Mahatma Gandhi, clearly fits this outline. She is not as well known to the modern world as her famous husband. It is not known that the concept of 'Satyagraha' was given to Gandhi by his wife. It is not known that Gandhi would have serious arguments and fights with his wife, Kasturba, who was always known as a demure and obedient wife. Kasturba acted entirely of her own accord, and she was not willing to agree to a situation simply because society dictates it to be proper. Kasturba was unwilling to compromise her own beliefs in order to please the populace. She also acted in unprecedented ways, not only for women, but for people in general. Most women would simply accept their husband's word and obey their wishes; however, Kasturba once again, would not relinquish her own values to please society. It is Nishi Chawla’s aim to make this play a deeply feminist text where Kasturba is revealed as a woman ahead of her times. She cared deeply for women's rights as well as her own rights as a woman. Nishi Chawla’s drama is cinematic in effect: it moves from episode to episode much as a camera would.
The play was first staged by Natya Bharti in the Washington D.C. metro area in Fall 2016.
This play has been successfully staged in New Delhi, India, by eminent theatre personality, Shilpi Marwaha a few times in 2018 and in 2019.
Nishi Chawla's play, "The Return Of B" is poised on the self-exiled heroine’s constant desire to return home even as it examines B's relationship with her father. The playwright has tried to explore B’s relationship with her Muslim father who encourages his daughter toward political ambitions more than he would do with his two sons to whom he did not pass on the mantle. The play thus intends to raise questions in the minds of the onlooker / reader about the exile / native dichotomy even as it tries to probe as well as follow some key aspects of B's life and career, especially her relationship with her mentor-father.
The enigmas of B's emergence, from her family and into a political maelstrom, do indeed make a compelling subject.
As someone who has taught drama for three decades, and having read most great dramatists of the world, Nishi Chawla is trying to do something different - move away from conflict and crisis, or at least, not make things reach a critical point and then resolve them gradually. The playwright is caught between contemplating on a drama of ideas and one where action happens where least expected. That is why she does not follow a linear history model, but keeps interchanging between various phases of B's life. And to qualify – B’s mother is a woman of contradictions as she did force her daughter to try the burqa in spite of being a very modern woman herself. And she does want her audience to notice the contradiction. Finally, the opening act where these precocious children come from a family where political discussion was central to their lives - does seem at variance from most normal kids. Hence, perhaps, the strange dichotomy between action and words. The rest is open to the reader's interpretation.....
Behind Female Grit and Glory
Behind Female Grit And Glory is the unique product of Nishi Chawla's creative imagination. This book contains three history plays that Nishi Chawla spent more than five years researching and writing. The plays deal with the inner lives of Kasturba Gandhi, Indira Gandhi, and a South Asian woman Head of State, and aim to bring out their predicament and dilemmas even as they assert their own rights as women leaders.
Authenticity is the major challenge of a playwright embarking on historical drama. While a writer is empowered with creative license, there is a certain expectation of historical accuracy and realism that is interwoven within historical drama. Nishi Chawla's own concern is not as much with documenting historical facts in her three plays as with imagining the anguish and emotions of the three women whose destinies grapple with their existential situation as gendered beings.
Quotes from three plays:
From "Kasturba Versus Gandhi":
“Conform! Conform! Why is a woman expected to conform to all the rigid expectations and standards of society? Why do I need to behave according to the dictates of society? Why can’t I stand my own ground and be myself? Why am I only nice when I am perfect and serve your needs and disregard mine? Why should I know what is expected of me and behave accordingly?”
“I realized soon that I need to prove myself, else I would be taken for a fledgling forever. You know.... [Pause] There is heartbreak in the heart of everything....” “You mean they have double standards? They have one set of standards for a male leader, and another set for a female one, right?”
From "The Return of B":
“Pay attention to your education, for it is your books that will take you far. And why should girls be behind boys in any way? Girls are the pride of any nation. They shape the minds and hearts of the young when they become mothers. So it is very, very important to educate girls...” “I want my daughter to have the same opportunities as my sons. And all conditions being equal, it is in every girl’s interest to reach her best potential.”
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