Neelam Mansingh Chowdhry’s Play: Gumm Hai

Director: Neelam Mansingh Chowdhry
Group: The Company Theatre, Chandigarh
Language: Hindi
Duration: 1 hr 15 mins

The Play & Director’s Note
The play Gumm Hai has been sourced from many references including The Seven Stages of Grieving, a performance text by Wesley Enoch and Deborah Mailman, and Anuradha Kapur’s play Nali Wali Larki.
The story begins with a child going missing in a village, and examines how an inexplicable loss irrevocably changes the dynamics within a family and the community. The varied skeins of narratives were dovetailed to examine and understand grief, loss, death, human affirmation and survival. This play was a way of engaging with the world, dealing with lost memories, and retrieval and archiving of these memories through performance and storytelling. The plays recurring leitmotif follows Pinki, a young girl of eleven who has gone missing from her village for two months. It portrays the broader, more abstract idea of something precious that has been lost, never to return. The narrative follows the experience of ‘everywoman’, chronicling her worldly grief and joys. This devised performance draws from traditional, popular and contemporary cultural practices, resorting fundamentally to the storytelling techniques that include song, dance and real life issues. Loss here is not communicated conventionally, but in an ironical, humorous and irreverent manner. However, despite the stories dealing with a subject that can be considered dark and brooding, the dominant atmosphere is one of affirmation, dance and song and sharing of stories.  The overall tenor is the resilience and strength of the human condition i.e. the instinct for survival.
During the process of putting the play together, we tried to juggle the role of the storyteller, the actor and the social commenter. We made no attempt to preach, judge or invoke any feeling of rancor on either the human or social condition, but to seek a human connection between the personal and the public.
Whenever one develops something new, whether it is an agglomeration of memories, anecdotes, songs, poems or personal or historical experiences, the aim is to uncover or discover the ‘internal logic’ of what appears to be a set of random, disjointed ideas. In this instance, the effort has simply been to tell a story within several stories, all coalesced together, to create a story of one’s own.

The Director
NSD alumnus, Dr. Neelam Mansingh Chowdhry has a master’s degree in the History of Arts. In 1976 she moved to Mumbai where she worked in schools and colleges, doing theatre workshops and children’s theatre. In 1979, she moved to Bhopal and was associated with Rang Mandal, a theatre repertory attached to the multi-arts complex, Bharat Bhavan. In 1984, she came to Chandigarh where she set up her own theatre group, The Company. Along with international teaching assignments, she has also been teaching in the Department of Indian Theatre, Punjab University since 1990. Under her guidance the group has participated in major national and international festivals. Dr. Chowdhry is the recipient of several awards including the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award, Shiromani Bhasa Vibhag, Ford Foundation Award, and the Padma Shri which she received in 2011.

The Group
When Dr. Neelam Mansingh Chowdhry formed her own group, The Company in 1984 in Chandigarh, she was looking for a vocabulary for training urban actors in traditional forms that were available in Punjab. The Naqqal tradition, through which she explored her work, belonged to rural Punjab and did not have a well-developed theatrical tradition in terms of aesthetics, technique and style. By working with the natives for the last twenty-eight years, along with urban actors, a way of working has emerged which combines, through fusion and differences, a new way of looking at history, performance space, image and text. Most of the plays produced by The Company have been translated by the eminent poet Surjit Patar, with music composed by BV Karanth.

Cast & Credits
On Stage                                    Mahesh Saini, Davinder Pal Singh, Surinder Arora, Chaman Lal,                                                               Ambika Kamal, Gursewak, Gurnam

Singer                                        Pamela Singh
Musicians                                  Satnam, Meher Chand, Amarjit, Bhadur Chand, Ram Singh
Light Designer                           Daulat Ram Vaid
Associate Director                     Vansh Bhardwaj

Director                                      Neelam Mansingh Chowdhry

The Company Theatre
H.No. 9 Sector- 4, Chandigarh- 160001
M: 9891186750, 9814202344