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What's In A Reflection?

  • HE: But Bai, is a reflection just a body?
  • WOMAN: What else? What do you see in the mirror-your mind? Yourheart? Your Soul?
  • -Mahesh Elkunchwar in Pratibimba

Elkunchwar’s “Pratibimba” was recently staged by the Cochin Theatre Group. I found it disturbing - it disturbed my comfortable routinized thoughts: What happens if you lose your reflection? What happens if one fine day you wake up and cannot see the way others see you?

The play opens with the protagonist HE aka Blockhead discovering the loss of his reflection in the mirror. HE is aghast. HE who had cared little for his reflection and never gave it a second thought is completely filled with nagging thoughts of the loss of his own reflection. And now consumed by this loss he cannot think of anything else: What does it mean? Does it mean the loss of one’s identity? HE is a paying guest and the coquettish hostess WOMAN (Shirley) has no time to spend pondering over such inane questions. The hostess’ sexual tension is evident in her silly laugh. And practical and worldly wise she sees it as an opportunity for instant fame and her imagination revels in the media frenzy and fortune for “The Man without a Reflection”.

What is globalization doing to our cultural identity?

Though written in the pre-globalization, pre 24* 7 news channel era, this existential play is true to the times and reflects the effects of globalization. The deterioration of one’s unique characteristics is the essential feature of globalization and the loss of cultural identity has already set in- the world over, everyone wears the same type of clothes, eats the same type of food, listens to the same music, watches the same films and even mouths the same language. The process of cloning of identity has begun and in the play “Pratibimba” the cloning of identity results in the loss of reflection for the character GIRL. So when GIRL comes in search of HE and tells him of her loss of reflection he does not recognize his own colleague.

GIRL: Don’t we work in the same office, in the same section, in the same
corner?
HE: I wouldn’t know…….Fifty girls to a section. They all wear synthetic saris. They all wear perfume. They all wear lipstick. How am I supposed to remember them?”

The play speaks of the horrifying aspects of merging cultural identities and finally the loss of one’s own identity. The GIRL losing her reflection is the symbolic loss of her identity. On a higher plane one’s reflection is the process of identification for the self and how the Other sees one and the loss of this reflection entails darkness within too. This drives the protagonist HE to suicide.

Replete with symbolism, dark humour and tremendous sadness the play does not shy away from asking uncomfortable questions. T M Abraham who directed the play in Malayalam says, “It is not easy to direct absurd plays and it was staged to make the audience to think, to wake them from the comfort zone.”

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