An Interview with Poile Sengupta
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An Interview with Poile Sengupta

Poile Sengupta was born in 1948 as Ambika Gopalakrishnan. She is one of the most promising English playwrights in India today and is especially known as a playwright and writer for children. She completed her undergraduate studies and an MA in English literature at Delhi University and later did a course in children's literature at Carleton University, Ottawa. She has taught at the high school and college levels; served as an educational, communications, market research, and language skills consultant; and is a well-known theatre person. She has her own group, Theatre Club, in Bangalore, and has acted in plays and in the award-winning film The Outhouse.

She has written columns for children in the Deccan Herald (Bangalore), The Times of India (Bangalore), and in Midday (Mumbai). Work [End Page 78] from the Deccan Herald was published in two volumes of Role Call (New Delhi: Rupa and Co., 2003), which has been translated into Indonesian, and Role Call Again (New Delhi: Rupa and Co., 2003). In 1968, she began "A Letter to You," a humor column for the children's magazine Children's that ran for nearly three decades. Her children's stories have been included in important anthologies published by Puffin, Tulika, and Target. Her children's fiction has been published by the Book Trust and Puffin. In 1991 a collection of her poetry, A Woman Speaks, was published by Writers Workshop, Calcutta.

Her first full-length play, Mangalam, won the award for the most socially relevant theme in the Hindu-Madras Players play scripts competition in 1993 and was later published in Body Blows (Kolkata: Seagull, 2000). Special mention was made of Keats Was a Tuber at the 1996 British Council International New Playwriting Competition. She received a senior fellowship of the Department of Culture, Government of India, in 1999-2000 to write plays for children. Her anthology of one-act plays for children, Good Heavens!, was published by Puffin in 2006. She has also written a full-length children's musical titled Yavamajakka! (Yavamajakka is the name of an imaginary village, in a four-line Jataka story) (Puffin 2000). She believes that children should be introduced to theatre early, and that drama teaches and is therapeutic.

Her plays are set in Indian contexts and include Mangalam (1993), Inner Laws (1994), A Pretty Business (1995), Keats Was a Tuber (1996), Collages (1998), Samara's Song (1999), Alipha (2001), and Thus Spake Shoorpanakha, So Said Shakuni (2001). Most of her plays have been directed by her husband, Abhijit Sengupta. Some of her plays, such as Mangalam, Thus Spoke Shoorpuakha, So Said Shakuni, and Alipha, have been directed by Joy Micheal for Yatrik1 on the Delhi stage. In 2008, Samara's Song was short listed for the Hindu Metro Plus Playwright Award. Her collection of plays Women Centre Stage was published by Routledge (2010).

Mangalam was first performed on 14 January 1993 by Playpen at Guru Nanak Bhavan, Bangalore. Issues dealt with were domestic violence and girlhood sexual abuse.

Act 1, with three scenes, is a play within a play, and the audience of the play becomes the characters we meet in act 2. The situation of the watchers of the play appears not to be very different from the play they were previously viewing. Mangalam, the character in act 1, was a victim of rape, and Sumati the viewer (in the first act) in act 2, is, in turn, the victim of molestation. The play showcases that violence against women cuts across economic, cultural, age, and class groups. The two modern, educated families in the play as the play within the play are touched by abuse. Play-within-a-play technique is used to underscore a standpoint. [End Page 79] Also the idea of using the same characters in both plays is to show how from 1960 to the present modern cosmopolitan family, nothing seems to have changed. Structures of oppression are replicated. The play within a play is an old device that was also used by Shakespeare in Hamlet to provoke the murderer.

Sengupta's next work, Inner Laws, lightheartedly explored the relationship between...