AN EXPLORATION OF MAHESH DATTANI`S PLAY` WHERE THERE IS A WILL BY DR. RAM SHARMA
Ever since his first play in 1988, Where there.s a will , Witch was rooted in the Gujrati familial dynamic , Dattani has in a sense chronicled the follies and prejudices of Indian society as reflected with in the microcorm of the family unit , The most tangible and dynamic reality in middle class Indian lives , Dattani calls the play an -exorcism of the patriarchal code- ( Dattani , 2000 : 4 49 ) and skillfully works his narrative around the intrigues and me of a dysfunctional Indian family ,, The play is set with in the conferies of four rooms two bedrooms , The living room and the derigueus dining room . In performance . Where there.s a will works with subtle contours that are handleld def——– , Not with standing the fact that this is Dattani;s first play . With family relationships as the focus of dramatic representation , Dattani;s handling of the performance space suggests to his audiences the vartations in signification allotted to ostensible simple . Through the connobuted design of the will , The relationships between the four main protagonist of a joint family are painfully twisted as the play begings to come alive in performance . this is a play where – Traditional ‘ family values clash with un experted twists in the tale that completely subvert exiting sterotypes . The story revolves around a supposedly – self made ‘ industrialist, Hasmukh Mehta, the patriarch who is the supreme malcontent with the typical problems of familial expectations, his lest less wife Sonal and a colourless conjugal life, his spend thrift son Ajit, and a u—— and conniving daughter in law Preeti, and last but hardly the lest, his mistress Kiran Jhaveri. All the four belie their names. Hasmukh is a dour – faced man who seems unable to smile, Sonal hardly shines, Ajit is not in the lest successful in his father’s eyes, and Preeti is as unaffectionate as Hashmukh is sour. And yet they are family , yoked together with in choice in the matter, and must function as a unit under the patriarchal order. Hasmukh – When I was twenty one, the greatest tragedy of my life took place, I got married – - The following year Ajit was born. Tragedy after tragedy – - – - ( 464 ) His son is a -nincompoo – He has not a single quality I look for in a son: He has made an my entire life worthless – - – It won’t be long before everything I worked for and achieved will be destroyed ! ” Immediately out side the family units stands Kiran, Hasmukh’s mistress, invisible until yhe patriarch dies and his will places her at the centre of the action. The highly dissatisfied Hasmukh is decidedly unhappy with the manner his life has been spent with no one living up to his expectations, the way he had lived up to his father’s. He must therefore get back at his family and teach them a protracted lesson. It is only by way of the will that he would attempt to tackle all these obstacles that he has been unable to correct with in his life time. Dattani works this out with the help of his extremely self – reflexive t—– – where Hasmukh speaks more to the audience directly then with any of the other protagonists, taking them into confidence. The play piquantly sketches his domineering patriarch who would revenge himself upon his – awaricious ‘ family by virtually cutting them out of his will, something they will discover only after his death. The colourless relationships between the two couples that comprise the family are developed in elaborate vignettes, portraying two singularly unexciting generations of couples sexually insipid and loveless, who remain in a typically materialistic and money – oriented upper middle – class mi– Ajit has b–.. to stand up to his father, taking it for granted that the inheritance is already his, and fiercely resists Hasmukh’s attempts at ( moulding ) him in his own model. While Sonal is proud of her son, her husband thinks he is a disaster, and Preeti, his wife is even worse. But he admits that she is clever, the only person who is a little wary of in the play, with a measure of justification. Kiran Jhaveri ,the epitome of the Dattani woman makes her appearance in the very first play that he wrote Smart ,Shrewd, calculating and worldly wise. Kiran embodies qualities that Dattani staunchly holds a positive and strong and necessary for a woman. Like most women who play gendered roles. Kiran is a victim too, but one who refuses to stay victimized. She becomes part of Hasmukh’s life with her eyes wide open, and aware of the benefits that she will derive from the relationship. A –. Is a part of her existence too, as she reveals to Ajit -I got a husband, my husband got his booze, and your father go – - – well, you know .- (491) Hasmukh Mehta excercises hegemonic power over the rest of his family to perpetuate his own conception of the self, which, he has in turn, received from his father. He meets with resistance at all point from the other members of his family -You still want to play Big Boss. And you can do it through me. In short, you want me to be you.-(460) says Ajit, and Hasmukh devices the means to continue this hegemony even from the grave. The will, here, becomes the iconic instrument to power and shapes and reshapes the destiny of the family relationships after his death. But the irony is that Hasmukh, to give the devil his due, transfers this controlling power to a woman and changes the entire fabric of the monolith that he is trying to preserve, immediately opening up the spaces the individual identity that he has all along sought to deny, death eases the pain of living says Hasmukh’s ghost -It feels good to be dead. No more kidney problems, no backaches, no heart beats – - — ( 479) Dattani explore some existantian augst here – What is this? A sandalwood garland? – - – when my father died, I used to put fresh flowers everyday for a whole month – - – ( takes a final look at his picture ) so that is how the world will remember me. Until my son looks me up in a trunk – - ( 487- 88 ) Where There Is a Will ( 1988 ) is a comedy with slight farcical touches which yet makes a point about the way patriarchal men invariably fail to exist as true human beings. The plot of this play revolves around the life of a man named Hasmukh Mehta. Who is a rich and successful businessman and his family. The action starts with Hasmukh having come home from office. Overhearing his twenty three year old son and Joint Managing Director of his form complaning about his father’s refusal to invest in new business ventures thought up by him. In a series of straight addresses or asides to the audience. Hasmukh. Classifies that he had thrown away his son Ajit’s project proposals unread because -If I Iet him have his way, we would all be panpers. Ajit, he plaintively adds – was bankrupt up here ( points to his head ) the day he was born. God just forgot to open an account for him.- Neither does Hasmukh have any love to spare for his wife Sonal or for his daughter – in – law Preeti whom he succinctly describes as – pretty, charming, graceful and sly as a snake- and sums her up as a girl who – has an eye on my money.- In course of scene, we learn that Hasmukh is a diabebtic and cardiac patient with a history of – high blood pressure, high cholesterol – (and ) an enlarged heart.- And all this goes towards explaining why towards the end of the first scene, he dies in bed where his wife discovers his dead body a few minutes later This is not the beginning of a tragedy however, for Hasmukh’s ghost lingers on in the house, wandering through its walls ( and occasionally setting cross – leggerd on the dining table ) keeping on passing acerbic comments on the actions band attitudes of the other (living ) characters, though unheard by, and invisible to, them comically, even a member of the audience is not spared Hasmukh’s ghost’s not – so —-. Criticism, for at one point soon after he has passed away and assumed the role of a mock- chorus his ghost sprawls on the dining table and dangles head and arums over its edge in imitation of swinging upside down from a tamarind tree, and points to a spectator in the auditorium and tells him sternly – your shoes need polishing.- The central issue of the comedy its complication – however emerges in its second scene in which it is revealed that none of his expectant family members have inherited his money, for what Hasmukh Mehta has done is to fform a Trust to be administered over by his former mistress Kiran Jhaveri as the Trustee. Infact, according to the terms of Mehta’s will, not only will his son not inherit his father’s money and property until he is forty -five but he will also have to compulsorily attend office everyday from 9 to 6 and remain under the official tutelage of Mrs. Jhaveri. And finally and most insulting to all the members of the family Mehta’s will stipulates that his former mistress will move in and live in his family till the Trust be dissolved twenty two years hence. All this point to the thesis of the play, which is the patriarchal dominance of Hasmukh Mehta both in the course of his life and after. As Ajit confesses after his father’s death -Even since I was a little boy, you have been running my life. Do this do that or don’t do that, do this. Was I scared of you!- Or as Preeti, the daughter in law, tells Ajit -he was a slave driver, your father! He almost drove me mad with his bossy nature. He succeeded with your mother- Even Kiran, the man’s mistress, confesses to his wife at a candid moment u -He was so insensitive to other people’s needs – yes. Mrs. Mehta. My father, your husband – they were g weak men with false strength – will the scars our parents lay on us remain forever- w h The truth that emerges finally is that Hasmukh Mehta had wanted his son to live in his own image, just as he had lived his own life in thrall to his father’s shadow : Kiran I should have hated him. Like I should have hated my father, my brothers and my husband. But all I felt for him was pity. Hasmukh (As a ghost ) Enough: I say, enough: I paid you to do my work. Not ridicule me! Kiran: Even his attempts at ruling over you after his death, through his will, are pathetic ( Hasmukh sticks his fingers into his ears and shuts his eyes ) The only reason he wanted to do that is because his father had ruled over his family. All his life he was being a good boy to his father. Sonal: How little I know him. If I had understood his when he was alive, I would have died laughing. (510) It emerges too that Mrs. Sonal Mehta had lived her life under the total dominance of her sister Minal, who always -decided what we should wear, what games we should play- and -Even at my husband’s f–. – - sat beside me and told me when to cry.- But to the play is not yet over, for in a surprise twist at the end it is revealed that Preeti had actually hastened, if not caused, the death of her father-in-law. Kiran holds this truth against Preeti, not to blackmail her, but to achieve a proper comic resolution by which the wife bonds wife the husband, and the family bonds with Kiran and the Ghost of Hasmukh leaves the house forever. Kiran : No, they are not. These are your father- in- law’s tablets. They controlled his blood pressure. They kept him alive. (Shows her the tablets in her other hand ). These are your vitamins. Now I’ll mix them up. ( Mixes them and throws them on the bed ) can you tell the difference? No, you can’t. unless you look very close. The companies names are embossed on the tablets. But a person who is used to taking them every day will not look so close (Studies Preeti, who is trembling now) The tablets you throw out of the window where the ones for high blood pressure. The tablets I found on his dressing table were your – - – Vitamins (Preeti starts sobbing) When did you exchange them? Oh, you could have done it any time. You had plenty of opportunity. He was right – you are very clever.Of course you didn’t kill him. You just let nature do the work for you. Were you so impatient? Couldn’t you want a few more years? Oh, I’m glad he made his will ! you don’t deserve any of his money. Each of the family members having discovered his or her own identity finally separate from Hasmukh over whelming self. All of them cheer to that. Hasmukh enters. But he stops at the doorway. The others continue a light animated coversation. Hasmukh . No, I don’t think I can enter this house. It isn’t mine – - more. I will rest permanently on the tamarind tree. ( Laughter at the table ) They are not my family any more. I wish I had never interfered with their lives. They look quite happy together. With Kiran Sitting in my place. Oh, I wish I had been more – I wish I had lived ( Exists ) Sonal : Oh, by the way, Aju, I wanted to tell you our neighbours complained today. Our tamarind tree is over—— and abstracts their electric wires. Why don’t you have it trimmed ? Where There is a Will is quite evidently a young man’s play which shows fairly optimistically that there is a way by which men and women can find happiness on their own terms. The developments, twists and surprises in the action are not however not facilely based on contrivances of plotting alone but for more appropreately on human motivations and wills. Each of the characters also develops Ajit ( or Aju as his mother fondly calls him ) is first projected through his father’s unsympathetic eyes as a mother’s darling and an ineffectual, nincompoop – an estimation which even his wife seems to share – but is then shown to have resisted and even won, in however infinitesimal a way, against his father in the battle of wills. Mrs. Mehta who had lived and suffered so long under the dominance of her husband and her sister, is shown to come into her own at the end of the play. Kiran : Wrong. I learnt my lesson from being so close to life. I learnt my lesson from watching my mother tolerating my father when he came home everyday with bottles of sum wrapped up in news paper. As I watched him beating her up and calling her name. I learnt what life was when my mother pretended she was happy in front of me and my brother, so that we wouldn’t hate my father. And I learnt when I kept my mother away from my father, so that in return he would remain silent for those three hours when he came home, and before he fell asleep on the dining table, to drunk to harm us anymore. I served him those drinks, waiting for that moment when he would become unconscious and I would say a prayer – - Thank God he was too drunk to impose himself on us ! yes, Mrs. Mehta. My father, your husband – they were weak men with false strength. While Kiran Jhaveri finds the happiness that had so long eluded her in her past existence as a business executive cum – mistress to a rich man and as daughter to a drunkard and wife to another. The liberation of these characters from the strange hold of their past is of course also the defeat of Hasmukh Mehta. This domineering husband, heavy father and tyrannical boss is gradually dwarfed and diminished to the point of insignificance. Of course he never quite loses our sympathy for he is given an engaging, comic vitality and verse ( both in the flesh as well as a spectra) but we can not help being unused when we hear that his erstwhile family has made plans to cut down the tamarind tree in the garden – his last terrestia haunt. The truth underlying the comedy is serious enough, the man who would rule over his family ever after his death is exposed at the end to be what he really was – comitragic weak ling who had constantly quested for a father- substitute, a man who was rude to everyone because he was e insecure himself, an unfaithful husband who didn’t really want a mistress – - – [but] a woman who would father him.- The so-called -Thesis Play- in which a well – made plot provides opportunities to the characters to interact and to illustrate through their relationship the dramatist’s idea is of course as old as Ibsen. That Dattani draws upon and exploits the resources of this convention of theatrical is manifest in the way Preeti’s substitution of her vitamin pills in the bottle of her father- in – law’s blood pressure tablets is discovered through a series of logical steps. Preeti’s frustration at not having inherited Hasmukh’s money leads her to abuse her husband and subsequently to burnt into tears. Ajit’s concern about the well being of his pregnant wife leads him to book for tranquillizers and he comes upon his father’s tablets in Preeti’s vitamin – pill bottle. Preeti cleverly seems her husband away from the room before he can inspect the tablets and throws them away together with the bottle out of the window, only to see Kiran pick them up below. Ajit still looking for the tranquillizers finds the tablets his father used to take for his blood pressure ( in reality Preeti’s ineffectual vitamin pills ) and leaves them on the dressing table in Hasmukh -s ( now Karan’s ) bedroom. Later, Kiran comes across this bottle compares its contents with the tablets in the bottle she had picked up, and deduces Preeti’s dead of substitution. – Kiran ( shows her the tablets ) What are these ? ( No response ) you should know. You threw them out of window. Don’t deny it ! I saw you. Preeti – Oh those. These are my vitamins. Kiran – Are they ? Preeti – Yes Kiran – Are you sure ? Preeti – Yes Kiran – Why did you throw them out of the window ? Preeti – I didn’t need them any more. Kiran – So these are your vitamins, are they Prity (weakly ) – yes.- Yet, what adds a new freshness to the old way of the thesis play is the sparkle of the dialogues and the text we of its presentation. To cite an example, here is the dead Hasmukh contemplating his photograph, put up by his son in a – conspricuous place.- What’s this ? A sandalwood garland ? Don’t I get fresh flowers everyday ? when my father died, I used to put fresh flowers on his photograph everyday for a whole month before getting a sandalwood garland. I wonder what became of his photograph ? It was much bigger than this one. I also had it touched up to make look more – - – dignified. Of course, I don’t need help in that department. These cheeks are toohollow. The lips are too tight. ( stares for a while, them to the audience, seriously ) I don’t have such mean little eyes, do I ? My father had. Thirty wears of living in the city and he got mean little eyes. Now where did that photograph of his go ?I had taken it down when the walls were repainted. It’s locked up in some trunk some where. I suppose ( Takes a final look at his picture ) so that’s it. This is how the world will remember me. Until my son locks me up in a trunk. ( Turns to Ajit ) Then all that remains of me is ( points to Ajit ) That’ ( pause ) This calls for some fresh air. I think I’ll go out side and swing on the tamarind tree. Upside down, t—— clear my head. (Exits through the main door ) ( 487 – 88 ) The first thing that strikes about this speech is that it possesses a typically Indian flavour in its references to fresh flowers, sandalwood, garland, trunk and tamarind tree. The rather typical carping of the urbanized and more materially successful son ( even though dead ) about a rustic dehati father comer out in the lines- I – - – ha it touched up to make him look more – - – dignified- and – thirty years of living in the city and he got mean little.- Some other dialogues in the play have an almost w——- hue of wit, as in Kiran’s – useful. What a useful thing to be. ) But what is far more innovative and original on the part of Dattani as a dramatist is his use of the injected dialogues of Hasmukh which, through unheard by the other characters, introduce a further dimension of implication for the benefit of the audience. Kiran – He was just like his father, wasn’t he ? Hasmukh – No, I wasn’t Sonal – Yes. He was Hasmukh – Don’t contradict me, woman ! Kiran – The same bossy nature ? Sonal – ( together ) No ! Hasmukh Yes ! Kiran – Did he ever disgrace with his father ! Sonal ( together ) No ! Hasmukh Yes ! Kiran – Did he ever do anything at all without consulting his father first ? Sonal ( together ) No, never ! Hasmukh Yes always ! (509 ) Superficially comic and evocative of laughter, this finitely embodies a kind of dialogic strategy in that we are privileged to hear two contradictory statements about the same person. Un like the Bakhtinian model of the dialogic in which there exists – a plurality of independent and unmerged voices and consciousnesses, a genuine polyphony of fully valid voices-. We are of course expected to em——– with Sonal here is, in other words, ironic. But the device of an apparition’s dialogues accomplishing the irony is also an extension and a radical one, of the older tradition of having a character say something in an aside and then of showing him to do or say something in an aside and then of showing him to do or say something contrary in the presence of other characters. In any case, Dattani’s use of visible / invisible, audible / inaudible ghost significantly pushes back the accepted borders of naturalistic drama. In Where There’s a Will, we meet characters drown from two generations, the father and the mother in Hasmukh and Sonal Mehta, and Ajit their son and his wife Preeti. Hasmukh is not happy about the prodigal behaviour of his son and also with the vain glorious attitude of his wife, Sonal. What he expects is implicit obedience to him, as he practiced it in his father’s case. When things drift away from his control he thinks of a checkmate. He creates a trust and appoints his mistress Kiran Jhaveri its trustee. This move renders all the members of the family to the position of pensioners. Even after his death. Hasmukh haunts his houseas a ghost.The evil of patriarchy take centre stage in this play. Dattami covertly asserts that where there is a will there is a way. Dattani’s dramatic art has been appreciated for its fine fabric of philosophic undertone and social consciousness. The philosophic reflections on the predicament of human destiny against the odds of socio- cultural practices, impart an exceptional depth and richness to his plays. However, Where There is a Will is a positive justification to the observation that Dattani’s genius is equally fertile both in comic plays and serious plays. The comic mode has even have a far reaching effect than tragedy. It is predicted – Satire, irony, gallous, humour and other mutations of the comic spirit will be the guiding force of over theatre in the coming years and tragedy has little to offer to a rebellious generation obsessed by the danger of the mega- deaths.” The play Where there is a will is a comic caricature with the family as a local. The focus of the dramatic is on the issues like gender discrimination and the domination of patriarchal authority. The dramatic structure. The setting of the play, verbal repartee and incongruity in human behaviour makes play a fine entertainment. Sita Raina, a well know Delhi based actress and theatre director writes in the note of the play. – Where There’s a Will as several interesting aspects. Mahesh described it as the exorcism of the patriarchial code. Women- be it daughter- in- law, wife or mistress. are dependent on men and this play shows what happens when they are pushed to the edge. What interested me particularly was its philosophical twist. To be the watcher of one’s a will, has control over his family through his money and forgoes on opportunity improve his interpersonal relationships. As do most of us. Consequently, when he became the watcher of his actions, he perceives that his desire for control head led him to be the victim of his own machinations unlike Kiran who uses powers play to essentially improve her relationship. The play is originally set in Gujarati family, but since I was not familiar with that millierr, Mahesh agreed to localizing it.- Besides, the ease and brilliance of dialogue, the straight expontion of action, provide better opportunity for the direct communication between the audience and the actors. Mahesh Dattani describes it as the exorcism of patriarchal code. Sita Raina, the well known theatre direction appreciated it for its -philosophical twist’ because Dattani efficiently manipulates the incidents for self enlightenment to expose the illusion of false authority. He promotes the idea that the passion for power and domination signifies the insecurity of an individual. One can nourish the dream of dominating others for a short while but the fact is well known that each individual fames his own dreams of life and their essential spirit can never be checked. – What interested me particularly was its philosophical twist. To be the watchers of one’s self is to make intelligent charges in this life. In Where There is a Will Hasmukh has control over his family through his money and forges the opportunity to improve his interpersonal relationship. As do most of us. When he became the watcher of his actions, he perceives that his desire for control had led him to be the victim of his own Machination – -.- The humour in the play through the visible and invisible presence of Hasmukh, especially after his appearance as a Ghost, his mute observations and the free display of the inner feelings of different characters against the authority of Hasmukh, is a unique device for self-assessment for the characters. The central action in the play Where There is a Will take place in the lavish house of Hasmukh Mehta. There are three spaces : dinning room cum living room, bed room of Husmukh Mehta and Sonal Mehta, and the decorated room of Ajat, their son and Preeti, his wife.
Act I (1) The lavish house of Hasmukh Mehta. There are three spaces, the fancy dining cum living room, the bedroom belonging to Hasmukh and Sonal Mehta and the hideously trendy bedroom, of their son, Ajit and his wife Preeti. Ajit is in the living room, talking on the Phone. Preeti is drifting in and out of the kitchen, loading the table with food for dinner. She is pregnant, Hasmukh enters through the main door with his walking stick. Each character in the play provides an appropriate foil to his/her counter part. If Hasmukh is dictatorial type husband, his wife Sonal is a submissive housewife dedicated to the choices of her husband. Business world is dominated by Hasmukh, Sonal occupies the space in kitchen and Pooja room. -Hasmukh There’s enough here to feed an elephant’s family! Sonal it’s all right for you say that, you are on a died. But what about our growing son. He needs proper nourishment. Hasmukh (scoffing) Growing son ! I tell you we are all getting enough nourishment. There’s no need to make parathas. Sonal. May be you are getting enough. I’m making them for Aju (Moves towards kitchen again) Hasmukh wait : (Sonal stops) I say there’s no need to make parathas Sonal – Aju wants them Hasmukh – He does not Sonal – How do you Know? Hasmukh – I know my son better than you know him. Sonal – Oh. So now I don’t know my own son. What makes you so sure you know him? Hasmukh – I don’t. But I know he doesn’t want parethas right now.- The similar contrast is seen in Preeti and Ajit. He is weak and insignificant in presence of his father but Preeti is calculative to observe all activities of the household. -Hasmukh (Applauds). Well done! Preeti (Coming to the landing) what’s the matter? Sonal – He’s gone! Preeti – Oh no, don’t say that. He may come home late, but he won’t run away or anything like that Sonal – Who – - What? Preeti – Look, there’s no needs to get worried. If you want, I’ll call Deepak and find out whether Aju is there with Him Sonal – (Hysterically) No! I don’t mean him! His father. He gone! Preeti – Gone where? Sonal (Screaming) Don’t you understand? He’s – - gone ! Preeti slowly understands. Screech of tyros and the sound of a car coming to a halt. In the mean time, Preeti confirms that Halmukh is dead, she comes down to the landing stops and screams. Ajit comes rushing in. Ajit – what’s the matter? Preeti, Your father. He’s – - gone Ajit – (moves towards them) what! The two women start sobbing. Lights fade out on them. Spotlight pricks up Hasmukh or rather his ghost he stands arms akimbo. And for the first time in the play, he grins form ear to ear.- Hasmukh Mehta exercises hegemonic power over the rest of his family members to perpetuate his own conception of -self’ which he has in turn received from his father. He does not allow Ajit to speak to government officials or to discuss business matters with his friends. His aboo—.. authority over his business, house and other articles is amazing and ridiculous. -Ajit (on the phone) Five lakhs that’s all. Give me Five lakhs and I’ll modernize the whole bloody plant. That’s what I tell my dad. I mean, come on, five lakh is nothing! Hasmukh (to the audience) My sone the business man? Just listen to him. Ajit – I mean, it’s not as if I want the money for myself. It’s for his factory. But he just won’t listen to me. I don’t think he has listened to me entirelife. Hasmukh – Do you blame me for not listening to him? If I paid any attention to even one of his crackpot schemes. I wouldn’t be around to listen to anybody. Ajit – After all, I am the joint managing director. Hasmukh – Believe me, appointing him as the JMD was a big mistake. Ajit – And, after all, I am his son. Hasmukh – That was an even bigger mistake, what makes it worse is knowing that I actually prayed to get him. Oh God : I regret it all. Please let him just drop dead. No, no. What a terrible thing to say about one’s own son. I take it back. Dear God, don’t let him drop dead. Just turn him into a nice vegetable so he won’t be in my way. Ever since he entered my factory, he has been in my way. (CP p.455)