We returned to the room of photographic art, and there another thick curtain was pulled aside so that we stood before an alcove I had never seen before. There in the alcove was the statue of a man, six feet tall and nude, which was, as far as I could see, anatomically correct to the last millimeter.
Elderberry pushed a button and the statue slowly turned on its pedestal, its smooth symmetry and perfect proportions evident from every angle.
“My masterpiece,” breathed Elderberry.
I am not myself a great admirer of manly beauty, but reflected in Elderberry’s lovely face I saw a panting admiration that made it clear she was suffused with love and adoration.
“You love that statue,” I said, cautiously avoiding the impersonal ‘it.’
“Oh, yes,” she whispered. “I would die for him. While he exists, I find all other men deformed and hateful. I could never let any man touch me without a sensation of disgust. I want only him. Only him.”
“My poor child,” I said, “the statue is not alive.”
“I know. I know,” she said brokenly. “My poor heart is shattered over that. What shall I do?”
I murmured, “How sad! It reminds me of the tale of Pygmalion.”
“Of whom?” said Elderberry, who like all artists was a simple soul who knew nothing of the wide outer world.
“Of Pygmalion. It is a story of ancient times. Pygmalion was a sculptor just like you except, of course, that he was a man. And he carved a lovely statue as you did, except that, because of his peculiar manly prejudices, he carved a woman, whom he called Galatea. The statue was so beautiful that Pygmalion fell in love with it. You see, it is just like your case, except that you are a living Galatea and the statue is a graven – “
That was an excerpt from Isaac Asimov’s science fiction story named Galatea. In Greek mythology, Pygmalion was a king of the island of Cyprus and a sculptor whose earliest mention can be found in Philostephanus‘ history of Cyprus. Roman poet Ovid’s Latin narrative poem Metamorphoses comprising 15 books contains over 250 myths. Pygmalion’s familiarity is down to Ovid’s tenth book about Orpheus and Eurydice. Orpheus sings about a number of myths. He mentions Ganymede, Hyacinthus, Propoetides, Myrrha, Venus, Adonis and of course retells the story of Pygmalion.
Pygmalion had seen them, spending their lives in wickedness, and, offended by the failings that nature gave the female heart, he lived as a bachelor, without a wife or partner for his bed. But, with wonderful skill, he carved a figure, brilliantly, out of snow-white ivory, no mortal woman, and fell in love with his own creation. The features are those of a real girl, who, you might think, lived, and wished to move, if modesty did not forbid it. Indeed, art hides his art. He marvels: and passion, for this bodily image, consumes his heart. Often, he runs his hands over the work, tempted as to whether it is flesh or ivory, not admitting it to be ivory. he kisses it and thinks his kisses are returned; and speaks to it; and holds it, and imagines that his fingers press into the limbs, and is afraid lest bruises appear from the pressure. Now he addresses it with compliments, now brings it gifts that please girls, shells and polished pebbles, little birds, and many-coloured flowers, lilies and tinted beads, and the Heliades’s amber tears, that drip from the trees. He dresses the body, also, in clothing; places rings on the fingers; places a long necklace round its neck; pearls hang from the ears, and cinctures round the breasts. All are fitting: but it appears no less lovely, naked. He arranges the statue on a bed on which cloths dyed with Tyrian murex are spread, and calls it his bedfellow, and rests its neck against soft down, as if it could feel.
‘The day of Venus’s festival came, celebrated throughout Cyprus, and heifers, their curved horns gilded, fell, to the blow on their snowy neck. The incense was smoking, when Pygmalion, having made his offering, stood by the altar, and said, shyly: “If you can grant all things, you gods, I wish as a bride to have…” and not daring to say “the girl of ivory” he said “one like my ivory girl.” Golden Venus, for she herself was present at the festival, knew what the prayer meant, and as a sign of the gods’ fondness for him, the flame flared three times, and shook its crown in the air. When he returned, he sought out the image of his girl, and leaning over the couch, kissed her. She felt warm: he pressed his lips to her again, and also touched her breast with his hand. The ivory yielded to his touch, and lost its hardness, altering under his fingers, as the bees’ wax of Hymettus softens in the sun, and is moulded, under the thumb, into many forms, made usable by use. The lover is stupefied, and joyful, but uncertain, and afraid he is wrong, reaffirms the fulfilment of his wishes, with his hand, again, and again.
‘It was flesh! The pulse throbbed under his thumb. Then the hero, of Paphos, was indeed overfull of words with which to thank Venus, and still pressed his mouth against a mouth that was not merely a likeness. The girl felt the kisses he gave, blushed, and, raising her bashful eyes to the light, saw both her lover and the sky. The goddess attended the marriage that she had brought about, and when the moon’s horns had nine times met at the full, the woman bore a son, Paphos, from whom the island takes its name.
Above prose is from A S Kline’s version of Metamorphoses. Click here for the lyrical version by Rolfe Humphries. It is clear from the text that the ivory girl does not have a name in the classical version. Galatea in Greek means ‘she who is milk-white’. There is an independent myth in Book 13 of Metamorphoses that refers to another Galatea – whiter than the snowy privet petals. 18th century writers named this milk-white ivory statue Galatea displacing the earlier one in familiarity stakes.
What’s in a name? Goethe calls her Elise based on Elissa the Queen of Carthage. He was fascinated by Kalidasa‘s Abhijñānaśākuntalam but that is a topic for some other day. Another Roman poet Virgil in his Aeneid retells Elissa from the original sibling rivalry story by Junianus Justinus in which daughter Elissa and son Pygmalion are joint heirs to the king of Tyre.
George Bernard Shaw named her Eliza Doolittle in his 1912 play Pygmalion – A Romance in Five Acts. Henry Higgins, a professor of phonetics, metaphorically brings Eliza to life by teaching her upper class manners while refining her accent. The term ‘romance’ is generally associated with a love affair but Shaw called it ‘a romance because of the transfiguration it records seems exceedingly improbable‘. The 1916 print edition includes his postscript essay ‘What Happened Afterwards’ to explain why it was impossible for his story to end with Higgins and Eliza getting married. He declares, ‘Galatea never does quite like Pygmalion: his relation to her is too godlike to be altogether agreeable.‘ The play had a very successful run in West End. It was lauded by both – critics and audiences. Everyone, except Shaw, wanted a happy marriage mirroring the original myth.
Shaw was a fan of motion pictures since the days of the silent films. He disliked the German version of the 1935 film about Pygmalion. Gabriel Pascal was once picked with the Pope and Hitler as one of the ten most famous men of 1938. Shaw found him to be an honest film producer. The British film produced by Pascal released in 1938. Against Shaw’s wishes a happy ending was added.
While reading the play, Pu La Deshpande, the Marathi playwright and a lot more, imagined the characters delivering equivalent lines in local dialect. A diary entry dated 19 May 1949 mentions Pu La mimicking Eliza, Higgins and Alfred Doolittle to his own text at the residence of Vasant Joglekar.
George Bernard Shaw refused permission for Pygmalion to be adapted into a musical. When he died in 1950, Gabriel Pascal asked lyricists Alan Jay Lerner & his partner Frederick Loewe to adapt the play into a musical. The project was abandoned after two years. Pascal died in 1954. Lerner and Loewe reunited to write the show and then acquired the musical rights from Pascal’s estate. The musical premiered on Broadway in 1956 and two years later appeared in West End as ‘My Fair Lady‘. It was followed by the 1964 film adaptation written by Lerner and directed by George Cukor. The film won 8 Oscars including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor.
Pygmalion is dark and realistic. My Fair Lady is a light comedy. In Pygmalion, Higgins treats Eliza with arrogance and contempt. Even though it has been omitted from the Gutenberg edition, it is well-known that Higgins scolds Eliza: “Yes, you squashed cabbage-leaf, you disgrace to the noble architecture of these columns, you incarnate insult to the English language! I could pass you off as the Queen of Sheba!“. He softens towards the end in My Fair Lady singing “I’ve grown accustomed to her face“. In the final act, Higgins crosses the limits of decency forcing Eliza to abandon him. She returns to him in My Fair Lady with a suggestive end hinting she might fetch his slippers.
Several adaptations surfaced in India after the runaway success of My Fair Lady. IPTA produced the Urdu Play ‘Azar ka Khwab‘ in July 1970 written by Begum Qudsia Zaidi. Swarasamradni written by Vidyadhar Gokhale showcased in December 1972 about the transformation of a Tamasha artist into a respected classical singer. Madhu Rai’s Gujarati version ‘Santu Rangili’ was produced by Indian National Theatre in Jan 1973. In January 1974, Satish Dubhashi, an extremely talented actor, requested Pu La to write a new play for him. Pu La was very fond of Satish and knew that he would do a great job playing Higgins. He decided to resurrect the characters he had developed in 1949. He completed the first two acts within 48 hours yet required about 4 and a half months to complete the play. Pu La directed the show himself which made its debut in Mumbai on 29 January 1975. Its script was published 19 years later in June 1994 as the play continued its successful run.
I prefer Shaw’s resolution to the musical. I like P L’s denouement even more.
What’s in a name? The original Greek myth & Ovid did not name the female statue turned wife. It does not make sense to assign modern sensibilities to the classic text yet it is clear that original myth was all about Pygmalion. He sculpted the statue, he fell in love with his creation, he made a wish, his wish was granted, he sired a child. Shaw’s version is not all about Pygmalion. He created a strong feminine protagonist. In his own words: ‘Eliza, in telling Higgins she would not marry him if he asked her, was not coquetting: she was announcing a well-considered decision‘. Eventually the play is titled Pygmalion despite the well known fact that it was originally written for the actress Mrs. Patrick Campbell. Incidentally Shaw rejected its provisional title – Fair Eliza. It is the story of Henry Higgins who while being good at his job lacks other attributes. The screenplay and dialogues are deliberately structured to reach the only possible conclusion that Eliza and Henry can’t live happily ever after.
Pu La named his play Ti Phulrani (ती फुलराणी – The Flowerqueen ) borrowing the title from a very famous poem by Balkavi, a pen name of Tryambak Bapuji Thombre, well known for his delicate and picturesque nature poems. Poems by Balkavi can be divided in three broad groups: poems depicting subtle phenomenon in nature, poems depicting emotional strife and finally the agnostic, meditative and philosophical poems. The title poem discussed here illustrates Balkavi’s approach to Nature poems where he personifies aspects of nature with human emotions. In this poem, stars fill the earth with love and hope, the brook dances and rejoices and the ray of the rising Sun makes love to the Flower.
नवरदेव सोनेरी रविकर – नवरी ही फुलराणी सुंदर !
The literal translation of this famous line: ‘Golden Sun is the Groom who marries his Beautiful Bride, the Flower’ is more relevant and applicable to our play. The title of Marathi version borrows its name from a classical nature poem that implicitly refers to marriage of the female protagonist through allusion to the term Queen. Pu La does not make superficial changes to Shaw’s plot for an alternative ending. In his tribute to Shaw, he faithfully retains skeleton of the original to build his own castle which reflects the times and his own sensibilities. [Click here for the similarities and dissimilarities between Wordsworth and Balkavi.]
We have seen that Shaw calls his heroine Eliza following Goethe referring to the lead female from a different Pygmalion story. This is how we find out her name in the play:
PICKERING [very courteous] Won’t you sit down?
LIZA [coyly] Don’t mind if I do. [She sits down. Pickering returns to the hearthrug].
HIGGINS. What’s your name?
THE FLOWER GIRL. Liza Doolittle.
HIGGINS [declaiming gravely] Eliza, Elizabeth, Betsy and Bess, They went to the woods to get a birds nes’: PICKERING. They found a nest with four eggs in it: HIGGINS. They took one apiece, and left three in it.
They laugh heartily at their own wit.
The Bird’s nest is a nursery rhyme where Eliza, Betsy and Bess are all forms of the original name which is Elizabeth. Hence only one egg is taken leaving three behind. We can see both Pickering (who is a gentleman and very courteous to Eliza) and Higgins mocking her at the outset. Now compare this with the equivalent introduction by P L:
विसुभाऊ:(खुर्ची उचलून) बसा बाई, बसा.
[मंजुळा खुर्ची स्वच्छ करून बसते]
अशोक : नाव काय तुझें
मंजुळा : मंजुळा … दगडू … साळुंखे
अशोक: वा, काय गोड नाव आहे! विसुभाऊ लक्षात आलं का? साळुंकी मंजूळ बोलतसे वाणी …
विसुभाऊ: शिकविता धनी वेगळाची, वेगळाची!
Visubhau: (places the stray chair) Madam, please sit down.
[Manjula wipes the seat before sitting]
Ashok: What is your name?
Manjula: Manjula (sweet) … Dagdu (stone) … Salunkhe [myna bird]
Ashok: Wow, what a sweet name! Visubhau, did you get it? The myna bird sings sweetly ..
Visubhau: But the master who teaches her is different altogether!
This extract demonstrates how the structure is retained while making subtle refinements. Visubhau isn’t merely acting like a gentleman; he believes that Eliza is his equal by addressing her as Madam and placing a chair for her. (Later he extends the same courtesy to Eliza’s step-mother.) Eliza may belong to a lower social circle but has already learnt some of the upper class manners by observing others. Upon hearing her name the two men, instead of mocking her with a children’s rhyme, appreciate it by remembering a famous hymn:
आपुलिया बळें नाहीं मी बोलत । सखा भगवंत वाचा त्याची ॥
साळुंकी मंजूळ बोलतसे वाणी । शिकविता धणी वेगळाची ॥
Between 14th & 17th century, a spiritual movement swept through India led by a group of Saints including Saint Tukaram who was a prominent spiritual poet from Maharashtra. His devotional poetry, called Abhang meaning flawless, had themes varying from humility, equality, concern for ecology and God’s Grace. The partially quoted hymn begins with the assertion that the words I utter are a grace of God (and not of my own accord) in the same way that a Mynabird sings sweetly by the grace of her Master.
The hymn differentiates Henry from Ashok. I think Shaw’s Henry is based on a José Mourinho like coach who believes that he buys only those footballers that have the talent and desire to excel. He won’t waste his time on a player if he felt differently about him. So the success of his team is a result of his planning and acumen. On the other hand my subjective opinion is that Ashok is like Arséne Wenger – grateful that he gets an opportunity to coach players who arrive at the club with a strong desire to improve.
By the way, both Manjula & Eliza react in the same way calling the men silly for leaving the thread of conversation and quoting obscure poems. When Eliza arrives at Wimpole street to pay for her lessons Shaw’s descriptive notes in the script make a few things clear:
MRS. PEARCE [returning] This is the young woman, sir.
The flower girl enters in state. She has a hat with three ostrich feathers, orange, sky-blue, and red. She has a nearly clean apron, and the shoddy coat has been tidied a little. The pathos of this deplorable figure, with its innocent vanity and consequential air, touches Pickering, who has already straightened himself in the presence of Mrs. Pearce. But as to Higgins, the only distinction he makes between men and women is that when he is neither bullying nor exclaiming to the heavens against some featherweight cross, he coaxes women as a child coaxes its nurse when it wants to get anything out of her. [emphasis mine]
HIGGINS [brusquely, recognizing her with unconcealed disappointment, and at once, baby-like, making an intolerable grievance of it] Why, this is the girl I jotted down last night. She’s no use: I’ve got all the records I want of the Lisson Grove lingo; and I’m not going to waste another cylinder on it. [To the girl] Be off with you: I don’t want you.
The book was released 19 years after the first show of the Marathi play which was originally directed by the author and that may be the reason we do not find any equivalent notes in Marathi text. When Eliza offers to pay a shilling, Higgins assumes that she earns about a half-a-crown which would be two-fifths of her day’s income. On the other hand, when Manjula offers to pay ₹10, Ashok calculates her monthly income to be roughly ₹40 after inquiring about her daily earnings. Soon after accepting her as a pupil, Henry mentions that within six months Eliza ‘shall marry an officer in the Guards, with a beautiful moustache‘. Needless to mention that in an otherwise faithful adaptation of this act, Pu La discards this line about Eliza’s marriage and later one about Henry’s bachelorhood. When Pickering demands a character certificate from Henry, he replies:
HIGGINS [coming off the piano restlessly] Oh, Lord knows! I suppose the woman wants to live her own life; and the man wants to live his; and each tries to drag the other on to the wrong track. One wants to go north and the other south; and the result is that both have to go east, though they both hate the east wind. [He sits down on the bench at the keyboard]. So here I am, a confirmed old bachelor, and likely to remain so.
After everyone agrees that Eliza will remain at Wimpole Street for her lessons, Mrs Pearce calmly lists the things Henry must follow such as being tidy and avoid swearing. He agrees to improve his behaviour. Later he moans to Pickering that despite being a diffident sort of man he gets portrayed as an overbearing boss. In the same situation Ashok jokes to Visubhau that he may be the only bachelor in the world who lives with his mother-in-law.
Shaw hides Eliza’s qualities in the first two acts. Her intelligence, superb memory, ability to produce sounds etc are revealed when she visits Henry’s mother in the third act. She is ‘devoted’ to the two men in this act before becoming independent in Acts IV and V. Perhaps it was a deliberate attempt by Shaw to surprise the audience as the play unravels but I prefer Manjula who displays her native intelligence from the opening act.
Alfred Doolittle, the garbage collector, is the undeserving poor. His last name indicates that he wants to get around without doing much. The character is created to make satirical barbs at middle class morality – ‘But my needs is as great as the most deserving widow’s that ever got money out of six different charities in one week for the death of the same husband ‘. Higgins and Pickering are delighted to hear his Poetic English – ‘I’ll tell you, Governor, if you’ll only let me get a word in. I’m willing to tell you. I’m wanting to tell you. I’m waiting to tell you‘. Dagadoba in PL’s version is as good and unlike Alfred he continues to sprinkle rhyming couplets throughout the play. I am quoting a few examples without transliteration and translation:
जीव कुट जडलं आन कुठलं झाड कुट वाडलं
सौदा पटवा माल उठवा
आपुन केल्यालं आपुनच भोगनार आन आपुन खाल्यालं आपुनच हगनार
गुरं हाकनाराच्या आन बाया राकनाराच्या
My gripe about the Marathi adaptation is limited to the weaker version of Henry’s mother. Both Mrs. Higgins and Aaisaheb chide their only son for his lack of manners. In fact, Higgins is responsible only for improving Eliza’s pronunciation and rudimentary knowledge. The real transformation is in her manners which Henry can’t teach. In Pygmalion, Mrs. Higgins gets to speak the following lines in the third act:
MRS. HIGGINS. You certainly are a pretty pair of babies, playing with your live doll.
MRS. HIGGINS. No, you two infinitely stupid male creatures: the problem of what is to be done with her afterwards.
MRS. HIGGINS. No, dearest: it would be quite proper—say on a canal barge; but it would not be proper for her at a garden party.
MRS. HIGGINS [flings down her pen; grips the table angrily and exclaims] Oh, men! men!! men!!!
And a few in the final act:
MRS. HIGGINS. Please don’t grind your teeth, Henry.
MRS. HIGGINS. Very nicely put, indeed, Henry. No woman could resist such an invitation.
I believe that Pu La compromised the strong mother character in lieu of civilising Ashok. Aaisaheb does put down Ashok but not with the ferocity of Mrs. Higgins. It is a common misconception that Ti Phulrani is based on My Fair Lady which can be easily cleared by placing the script of both versions next to each other. Or we can point to the fact that Freddy Hill does not have a sister in Lerner’s version. Clara Eynsford Hill speaks the opening line of the play complaining to her mother that Freddy could not fetch a cab on time. In the third act, all three Eynsford’s visit Mrs. Higgins’ Chelsea flat on her at-home day. Henry invites Eliza to test her skills in upper society scrutinising how she pronounces and what she pronounces. She does well on how but ends up encouraging Clara to learn ‘the new small talk‘ in terms of what.
Act III in both versions is very similar barring a clever change in the Marathi version albeit at the cost of weakening the mother character. It opens with Henry turning up uninvited on the at-home day of Mrs. Higgins. He explains his bet with Pickering and the social experiment with a common flower girl. Mrs. and Miss Eynsford Hill arrive just before mother can make any protest. Freddy, Pickering and Eliza join them soon. Eliza makes an impact with her pedantic speech. But when the conversation moves to Influenza, she slips into her native accent revealing alcoholism in the family. Henry explains the slippage as the ‘new small talk‘. When Eliza gets up to leave, Freddy offers to walk her but she exclaims, “Walk! Not bloody likely. I am going in a taxi.” Clara is smitten with Eliza and tries to imitate her speech. After the guests leave, Mrs. Higgins admonishes Henry and Pickering in a series of criticisms quoted above. The act ends when she is left exasperated gasping ‘men! men!! men!!!‘.
Ashok appears unannounced on a Friday afternoon at a time when guests are expected. He gets his mother up to date about his bet with Visubhau and his invitation to the common flower girl. After hearing him out she points out, in a relatively gentle manner, the difficulty of Manjula’s new station at the end of their experiment. The three members of Patwardhan family from the opening act arrive. They are joined by Visubhau and Manjula. Manjula impresses everyone with her diction. The conversation moves to influenza. Manjula slips into her accent and describes family history using colloquial verbs like खपवली, लाटली, फूटवली which are used to describe theft and murder. Vasant (Freddy) thinks that she is merely imitating “the new small talk”. When Manjula gets up to leave, Vasant offers to walk her but she exclaims, “हितं कोन रांडीचं चालायला बसलंय!“. Suma is smitten with Manjula so Ashok encourages her not be afraid and use the new small talk at other parties too.
During 1930s, Motion Picture Association’s code prohibited the use of word damn in the film. An amendment was passed to allow the word in special situations a month and half before the release of Gone with the Wind which paved the way for the iconic, ‘Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn‘ line. All the other actresses, except Mrs. Patrick Campbell, refused to say the taboo word ‘bloody’ spoken by Eliza when Pygmalion made its West End Debut. With passage of time, in an élite setting, Damn and Bloody got replaced by the asterisked F word to shock the audience.
रांडीचं used by Manjula is the equivalent shock word for Shaw’s ‘bloody’. Relatively It does not seem out of place when uttered by supposedly uncouth Manjula. Suma is a middle class Brahmin girl expected to carry the burden of middle class morality. Ashok instigates Suma to use some of Manjula’s choice crass phrases. At his prompt about not being afraid, Suma retorts, “हितं कोन रांडीचं भ्यायला बसलंय!” (“Who the F$*@ is afraid!”) just before the curtain falls.
Shaw’s 1912 version does not waste any ink in Educating Eliza but his 1941 film script includes the famous pronunciation exercises “the rain in Spain falls mainly in the plain” and “In Hertford, Hereford, and Hampshire, hurricanes hardly ever happen”. According to The Disciple and His Devil, the biography of Gabriel Pascal by his wife Valerie, it was Gabriel who introduced the famous phonetic exercises. Elizabeth’s lessons were further expanded by Lerner in My Fair Lady to the extent that she gets frustrated and dreams of various ways to kill Henry.
Manjula’s education is covered in depth by PL. It begins with prose in a traditional ‘once upon a time’ story and right at the beginning Pu La makes fun of superficial politeness using a sweet exchange in native dialect between Manjula and Visubhau to highlight their camaraderie. Visubhau and Ashok brainstorm about an appropriate poem and settle on two nature poems by Balkavi. One of them is the popular monsoon rain song and the other one is the Title poem discussed earlier. Ashok buys Manjula a ring when she flawlessly recites that poem after 15 days of hard work. Henry too buys a ring for Eliza in Brighton but we don’t know whether it was a reward for any specific act of hers or in general. In between when the going gets tough, Manjula too gets to daydream on stage wishing awful things for Ashok.
There is a small difference between Eliza and Manjula’s fantasy. Eliza dreams of shouting out “Ready, aim, fire” in the concluding verse of “Just you wait, ‘enry ‘iggins, just you wait“. Manjula’s reverie ends with ‘शरन आल्यावं देऊ नये मरन‘ – ‘pardon the death sentence for those who surrender’.
नांदी or a benediction/precursor used to be the first piece of text in Sanskrit dramas including the celebrated plays by Bhāsa, Śūdraka & Kālidāsa. It is kind of opening prayer generally praising Shiva followed by a short dialogue between the narrator and members of the troupe to introduce title, author and theme of the play. Pu La brilliantly reuses that tradition to introduce vowels and consonants in a Balkavi-like personification of the letters. He explains the origins of guttural, palatal, retroflex, dental, labial, approximant and fricative sounds without getting technical. He goes on to declare that ego set in immediately when sounds came together to form words resulting in discrimination based on pronunciation. He ends his benediction by crediting Shaw for Pygmalion and himself for its adaptation in Marathi.
In his introduction to the 1914 script, Shaw boasts that:
.. Pygmalion has been an extremely successful play all over Europe and North America as well as at home. It is so intensely and deliberately didactic, and its subject is esteemed so dry, that I delight in throwing it at the heads of the wiseacres who repeat the parrot cry that art should never be didactic. It goes to prove my contention that art should never be anything else.
Pu La is more Rakjumar Hirani than Rakesyh Mehra. He knows his audience thoroughly – a few lessons will do but never get preachy. He does not want to tell the audience how ignoramus they are. Mehra tried that in Delhi 6, soon after the success of Rang de Basanti, asking people to look in a mirror and correct their own biases. Not unexpectedly, viewers disapproved a film whose solution wasn’t gunning down the politician to solve all the problems. Pu La is loved universally. An artist/sportsman manages a larger following by keeping his personal views to himself.
Shaw joined the Fabian Society, a socialist political organisation, in 1884. The society championed systematic, progressive legislation based on mass education and persuasion. The society started releasing essays, written by famous and prominent figures, including Shaw and attracted a lot of literary and speech talents, thus ensuring influence among British intellectuals and eventually government officials. Many Fabians participated in the formation of the Labour Party in 1900. His plays dealt with issues such as women’s rights and poverty and implied that socialism could help solve capitalist problems. Shaw’s popularity declined after his essay Common Sense About the War (1914), which was considered unpatriotic. With Saint Joan (1924), portraying Joan of Arc four years after she was declared a saint, Shaw was again accepted by the post-war public.
In Act IV, after a triumphant evening, Eliza’s independent spirit stands up to Henry’s bullying. In the beginning she fetches Henry’s slippers like a loyal puppy. By the end she taunts him until he loses his temper and enjoys the spectacle. Their argument in Pygmalion is decisive with no reconciliation in final act. Pu La retains the skeleton of the argument but leaves the bitter stuff so that Ashok can regain common sense in the final act of reconciliation. Shaw gets preachy in this section managing to put his finger on the society even after a hundred years:
If you’re going to be a lady, you’ll have to give up feeling neglected if the men you know don’t spend half their time snivelling over you and the other half giving you black eyes.
If you can’t appreciate what you’ve got, you’d better get what you can appreciate.
Independence? That’s middle class blasphemy. We are all dependent on one another, every soul of us on earth.
In the postscript essay ‘What Happened Afterwards’, he quotes Nietzsche: “When you go to women, take your whip with you.” Then he adds:
Sensible despots have never confined that precaution to women: they have taken their whips with them when they have dealt with men, and been slavishly idealized by the men over whom they have flourished the whip much more than by women. No doubt there are slavish women as well as slavish men; and women, like men, admire those that are stronger than themselves.
In conclusion, if Pygmalion is adapted again, the creators can characterise Henry and Pickering in a civil partnership at the beginning and the play can end with Eliza, Henry and Pickering as ‘three old bachelors together instead of only two men and a silly girl.‘