For the longest time, I have wanted to watch Rukmavati ki Haveli – a film by Govind Nihalani (which is now up on YouTube). I think it was the allure of the name – a very strong and heavy fisted name – Rukmavati ki Haveli – a daunting name at that and it was only recently (two years ago) when I realized that it was based on a play by Lorca, whose poems I had read earlier and was fascinated by them.
I did finally get to reading “The House of Bernarda Alba” and I was hooked from the first scene of the first act. From what I have heard, it is also Lorca’s longest play and boy was I glad that I read it. It is an easy play to read, but of course, however, what stays with you after you’ve finished the book is unsettling and disturbing if nothing else.
The play is set in Spain, in the house of Bernarda Alba (the titular character of course), along with her mother, the maids, and five daughters who she controls with a vengeance, to the extent that she can also control their hearts. All of this takes place in time of mourning, when they are locked at home and not allowed to step out. It is a quick read, but it is very precise and cuts right through to the reader.
The characterization is flawless – especially Adella (the youngest daughter) and Bernarda as the unrelenting matriarch. The themes of madness, loneliness, yearning, oppression, the changing political landscape of Spain and in that the changing landscape of the Alba household (the juxtaposition is superb) are deftly handled by Lorca. The context of 1930s Spain and its tumultuous landscape is so evident as you read the play – religious, spiritual, traditional and modern merge and the future of the characters hangs in a melancholy balance.