The power of learning

Wednesday, 27 August 2014 - 6:00am IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: dna

Willey Russell's classic play raises issues haunting societies beyond geographical boundaries

We all aspire to grow. We all want our future to be better than our present. Every individual wants to improve his life and situations. So does Rita. This protagonist of British playwright Willey Russell's comedy drama too wants a better tomorrow for herself. And do get that she tries to change herself into someone she's not. Ajit Kelkar, Pratima Kulkarni and Pradnya Shastri are bringing back the classic play Educating Rita to Mumbai 20 years after it was first staged by theatre guru Pt Satyadev Dubey in which he and veteran Marathi actress Neena Kulkarni enacted the roles of protagonists Frank and Rita.

Better life
"Rita aspires to enter the higher class of the society. And to do that this lower middle class woman gets what she thinks is the most powerful tool in the world: Education," says Kelkar. This modern day British comedy by Russell has lured audiences all over the world. Rita, a 26 year old married hair-dresser, who is hungry to 'know everything' gets assigned to the English tutor Frank in an open university course. Frank, in his 50s, is a disillusioned professor who takes to drinking, so much so that he keeps his whisky bottles stashed behind the books in his library. "Rita enters his life as a breeze of fresh air and life changes for both of them. She is intelligent, smart and very straightforward. She is unlike those hypocrite refined society women who speak only to impress and love only to gain," says Kelkar.

Tough times
However, the lack of support from her husband, the fight she has to put up in getting an education instead of having a baby makes education more challenging for her. Her fresh and intuitive approach gets clouded as she grapples with the problem of a formal education geared only to pass exams. And thus their relationship takes a number of twists and turns which do not fail to amuse and amaze the audiences. Russell has woven the various threads of human relations in a marvellous fashion with startling remarks on the state of society, education as well as the difficulties a married woman faces to get an education.

Contemporary story
Kelkar emphasises that the story of Rita is relevant even today. "When she starts behaving like other women, Frank reprimands her. She herself experiences the duplicacy of high-born and high-class society when one of her rich friends tries to commit suicide due to depression. Rita's struggle is never over," he says. The issues raised by Russell 20 years ago about education, class distinction and women empowerment haunt our country even today. "What has changed in all these years? We are still grappling with inequalities and women are still treated like second class citizens in our country," says Kelkar.

When and Where: On August 28 at NCPA Experimental theatre from 6.30 pm

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