A scene from Bimoksha. Photo: Chandra Bahadur Ale.
The issue of caste is inextricably woven into the social fabric of Nepal. From time to time, incidents involving Caste-based discrimination makes headlines. While they fade from public memory in a day or two, they get caught up in the people on the receiving end.
This problem robs them of their dignity and offers humiliation in its place. As a solution, many people tend to change their identity in the hope that society will consider them equal so that they can regain their comfort. However, this could be an illusion in many cases.
The play Bimoksha, currently performed in Shilpee Theater in Kathmandu, brings out the story of one of those characters who is trying to adapt to this social construction. Despite sounding like a strange love story, the play is replete with nuanced portrayals of pervasive social ills and has the ability to compel the audience to reflect on and question the social ills associated with caste.
When Bimoksha is opened, the reddish light is turned on and the audience finds themselves inside a well-furnished room adorned with few belongings. Most striking among them is a deer horn, a symbol of regeneration, stuck on the wall.
On the other wall, there is a portrait of Colonel Shyam Kumar. If a cozy sofa and a luxurious bed give the place a homely atmosphere, then an oxygen cylinder nearby is a warning that not everything can be fine here.
You quickly learn that we are inside the apartment of the elderly Rashmi Devi Basnet (played by Saguna Shah), affectionately known as Muma Hajur, a grandmother.
Not long after, when Muma Hajur lights a cigarette and takes her first drags, her assistant (played by Pabitra Khadka, who also played the role of young Rashmi Devi Basnet) catches her red-handed in her sneaky act. Muma Hajur, a seventy-year-old asthmatic, hastily gives up his cigarette.
Then the drama for a few minutes is about hiding the cigarettes.
These opening scenes of the play Bimoksha, written by Ghimire Yubaraj and directed by Prabin Khatiwada, could start out as a soap opera. But the next scene tells one that he has more to offer.
As Bimoksha progresses, audiences don’t know what to expect when 45-year-old Deep Darnal (played by playwright Yubaraj himself) meets Muma Hajur at her apartment. You then find out that Darnal and Muma Hajur are actually former lovers.
Given her poor eyesight, Muma is unable to recognize Darnal at first. The play then goes back in time, telling the story of their unlikely love affair and the eventual breakup of it.
The game then reveals both personal and social. It revolves around her love and heartbreak along with politics by telling the story of pervasive social discrimination in contemporary Nepali society. It derives its dramatic conflict from the intertwining of these two aspects.
characters and setting
Like its setting, Bimoksha is minimalist in its cast, featuring only four characters. It is set in two time frames: the present and the past. Khadka also plays the role of the young Muma Hajur known as Rashmi Devi Basnet while Sagar Khati Kami plays Kamal Kumar (the young Dev Darnal).
Basnet’s transformation into Muma Hajur may be natural due to his age, but how Dev Darnal changes into Kamal Kumar when he was young is questionable. However, this change in his identity has a different story.
Darnal represents those thousands of Nepalis who feel compelled to hide their original identity as a shield against the caste-based discrimination that is rife here. Belonging to the so-called lower caste means being deprived of equal opportunities in everything. Not only economic opportunities but also romantic ones, as this work portrays.
Darnal’s moving dialogues on the Bimoksha stage remind you of the assassination of Nabaraj B.K. and the home deprivation for Rupa Sunar. Also, someone who has faced caste-based discrimination can easily relate to Darnal and his stories.
Similarly, Muma Hajur’s pure feeling for Darnal, even after years of being apart, shows that true lovers’ feelings for their beloved cannot be stolen from them. She still loves Darnal like she used to when she was a child. Also, she still desperately wants Darnal to reach out to her and touch her.
But Bimoksha is not limited to portraying the issue of caste-based discrimination. He also shows the agony of a widow and single mother like Muma Hajur. She shows how she wants the love of her special being with whom she parted due to difficult circumstances and her desire to reunite since her husband had passed away a long time ago.
This is one of the rarely discussed issues in the Nepali society that Bimoksha deals with. Nepali society still has a negative attitude towards a widow and single parents if they fall in love with other people and try to start a new life. Recently, a public figure in her 50s started a new relationship and the hateful comments on her social media say it all.
In addition, the play also conveys the message that discrimination against women is pervasive regardless of a person’s social background or education; it exists in both rural and urban settings and in lower-class and upper-class families.
Bimoksha has a powerful story to tell, but what makes her stand out is her moving dialogues. They are well written and the play has a cast of skilled actors who play them perfectly. The play has a lot of dialogues, but they are all justified, which adds excitement and surprise to the story.
Also, to the producers’ credit, the use of recorded raw footage for flashbacks is novel and commendable. Executing the flashbacks in the play is definitely not an easy thing, but the makers of Bimoksha have done it perfectly.
All in all, this 80-minute play is a package of love, tragedy, and how they are affected by social forces. It is a work with which one can identify, a must see.
Bimoksha will be performing until April 1, every day except Tuesday, at 5:15pm at Shilpee Theatre, Battisputali, Kathmandu.