Hudumdoi – The ritual of exploitation


If love speaks a universal language than so does exploitation. There may be changes of climate, colour, characters or the climax but the message, almost all the time, remains the same – the supression and exploitation of the powerless by the powerful, of the downtrodden by the wealthy. Director Mrinal Kumar Bora’s adaptation of Imran Hussain’s ‘Hudumdoi’ evokes a similar tale of angst and exploitation.

Set in the rural backdrop of Goalpara district of Assam, Hudumdoi speaks of the age-old feudel system. But inpite of the oft-repeated theme of the landlord exploiting the weak, illeterate and powerless peasants, Imran Hussain’s tale has a kind of raw energy and vigour about it. ‘Hudumdoi’ is a ritualistic practice whereby the village womenfolk practice a ritual of dancing naked in the paddy fields to appease Hudumdoi – a mythical figure who, as legend depcits, heralds the advent of the monsoons. This ritualistic practice is an integral part of the lives of the villagers. Because the very livelihood of the community depends on the regular and periodic arrival of rains.

Along with the rural background which is sought to be depicted, the other facets of poverty – illiteracy, superstition and disease – also run amok in the story. Set against such a backdrop is the story of Bhanubala who has to run a family, which includes a young daughter-in-law and a small grandson. The landlord of the village had cruelly taken away Bhanubala’s son and killed him – a fact which was unknown to both the mother and her daughter-in-law Behula. With no male member in the family, the family plunges deeper and deeper into the clutches of the lecherous and greedy landlord.

Faced with no option of providing for a livelihood and in the absence of her husband and a male figure in the house, Behula – the daughter-in-law – finally has to give in and succumbs to the demands of the landlord. Her action was fuelled primarily by the need to provide food and the means of sustenance for herself and her family. Just like every other small village, it was difficult for Behula to keep her actions a secret and very soon, the news of her affair with the landlord spread like wildfire amongst the villagers. And once it did, it did not take long for the womenfolk of the village to rush to Bhanubala and complain about her daughter-in-law’s wayward behaviour. Bhanubala, however, takes a tough stand against the villagers.

One night while lying in an amarous embrace with her, the landlord finally succumbs to the young widow’s repeated pleas regarding the wherabouts of her husband and he spits out the truth – that he had killed him. In a fit of rage, Behula kills the landlord.

The denoument of the play is indeed a fitting climax to this tale of love, hate, exploitation, corruption, and of a kind of poetic justice. Desperate to end the bad spell that seemed to have engulfed her life, Bhanubala, towards the end, goes into a trance and performs the Hudumdoi. Her daughter-in-law, mad with frenzy, also reaches the same field after killing the landlord, and cries her heart out there in the field where she believes the body of her dead husband lay. The juxtaposition of Bhanubala dancing the Hudumdoi and Behula crying inconsolably besides her certainly provides for some cathatic moments.

The scene where Bhanubala importunes her daughter-in-law, along with the other villagers, to perform Hudumdoi and the latter’s vehement refusal is also highly captivating. The characters of Bhanubala and the young daughter-in-law was essayed with great force, ease and fluidity. More attention, however, needs to be paid to the dialect.

The director Mrinal Kumar Bora seems to be a bright star in the theatrical firmament of the State. The entire crew really blossomed under his guidance, while the simple yet elegant backdrops provided the perfect ambience for the play. Last but not the least, writer Imran Hussain’s depiction of the subaltern and marginalised section in the story speaks of richness in terms of language and imagery, and a vivid and gripping portrayal of character and situation.

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Posted on May 7, 2010, in Concerts/ Reviews, Day-to-Day and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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