Point of View - Priti Bakalkar reviews 'Skeleton Woman'


“If I could start my life again, I would begin by changing my profession. I would rather live on a full stomach and an empty mind. Perhaps as a fisherman…” Interesting… Isn't it? Well, that is the underlying theme of Quaff Theatre's “Skeleton Woman”, directed by Nayantara Kotian, written and performed by Kalki Koechlin and Prashant Prakash.

The protagonist of the play, who is a writer (Prashant Prakash) is struggling with his ideas, trying to complete his stories/ novellas/ poems. He starts with unusual themes but is unable to complete them. Apart from being incomplete, all his creations have one thing in common "the Sea"! All his work is involves the Sea and fish. This has to do something with his being a fisherman in the past or his desire to be a fisherman!
He is struggling to have a grasp on the reality and his imaginary world. Rather, he is not interested in having any connection with the real world. His wife (Kalki Koechlin) though not happy with his eccentric behaviour and his inability to stay connected with the real world or his inability to complete his stories and is annoyed by his obsession to the Sea and fish, is very supportive to him. She takes up odd jobs so that they can pay house rent and he can continue writing. She inspires him, she instigates him, she reprimands him, she plays odd games; all to help with his work but nothing seems to help.
The writer is so much entangled in his own world of fantasy that many a times he sees Sharks in their living room and there
are times when he is visited by talking goose or for that matter a skeleton of a woman who drowned at the Sea. But the wife is always around to bring him back to the reality. However, at times even she craves for his attention. When she does not get that attention she tries all possible stunts including faking a pregnancy!

There were such innumerable banters between the two which were identifiable to the various couples sitting in the audience. They could identify themselves with the frustrations of expectations in a relationship. A lot of nudging and knowing smiles were being exchanged. There's a scene when the wife tells husband that she wants to discuss something that relates to her and during conversation the husband starts with his problems. After a couple of minutes the wife realises the direction the conversation is going in and stops the husband with a remark "I thought this was supposed to be about me, how did you come in?" Sounds familiar??!!

Finally, when the writer completed his story "A goose at the Sea", during an interview of the writer it is revealed that his wife had been dead for last two years. She drowned at the Sea two years back and since then he had been struggling with his work. All of a sudden we were hit by the reality. All the time what we thought a mix of reality and fantasy was actually the imagination of the writer. His attempt to keep his wife alive in his memories or a feeble attempt to cope up with his loneliness. All of a sudden the writer was no more annoying or whimsical or eccentric. He became a hero who is trying to fight his fears of loneliness. It's amazing insight to how fear of loneliness play tricks on human mind and at the same time how your conscientious can help you to stay afloat.

Suddenly, the play was not about the musings of the writer or about the wife. It went on a different philosophical plane. The reference to "The old man and the Sea" is so very apt. In a way the writer is Santiago, the fisherman of “The old man and the Sea”. However, the writer feels cheated because even though Santiago catches the biggest/ largest fish anyone had caught till then, in the end all he got ashore was a skeleton. It makes you think, ultimately what is success? You may hit upon biggest treasure but if you are not able to appreciate when you have it in y
our hands then all you get in the end is its skeleton. Thereafter, it all depends on how brave you are to let go, else the ghosts of what you lost on the way will keep haunting you.

It was a wonderful experience to watch this beautiful simple story based on an Inuit folk tale which has been wonderfully adapted by Kalki and Prashant. It had multiple deeper layers to it. And because it is their own creation, the actors were able to catch the subtleties of the story. Of course, it resulted in a beautiful performance. Generally, such kind of stories when narrated theatrically they have a static, a nano-second gap in transmission... But this was absolutely seamless. Therefore, entire audience was completely drawn in. May be, not all of us managed to fathom the deeper layers of the story then and there but everybody was involved in the story. The credit goes to the fantastic performance of Prashant and Kalki. They were absolutely adorable as a couple. They were so natural and pleasant as a breath of fresh air. Their performance was complemented by a beautiful set. And how can I not mention the lights (Sujay Saple) and music (Naren Chandawarkar). It captured each mood of the performance right from the word “Go”! The whole experience grows on you and stays with you.

Sad that this wonderful surreal piece cannot be experienced anymore as it was the last performance of the play on Sunday. The play began its journey with Thespo and just when Thespo 12 is about two weeks away, it ended its run. One chapter of epic “Thespo” is over… well, until it is re-opened.