Louella Lobo Prabhu commenced her impactful literary life as a novelist in her teens with “ The Quest’ which was serialized in a magazine. Interestingly, this is not in an Indian setting, but in an authentically British one, faithfully recreating the world of famous classics that she admired as a student of literature. Its protagonist, unusually is a male, JulianDelafield. The young novelist detours the world of law, the British foreign office, the second world war and the performing arts in an unusual philosophical quest.
It is as a dramatist that she should be appropriately remembered on such occasions as Women’s Day. She was perhaps inspired as a playwright by Hendryk Ibsen’s drama “ The Doll House’, with its eloquent plea for a woman to be valued as an individual and not as a man’s plaything.
Her stupendous dramatic corpus of 42 plays was the subject of academic dissertation and theses even in her lifetime. She will also shortly feature in an authoritative anthology of Indian dramatists. Some of her published dramas exist, and many more enjoyed stage performances. New publications and re-prints could be expected in the near future.
One of the most notable features of her work is its focus on strong female protagonists; they are intelligent women who work around their circumstances for a greater good.
“ I Have a Dream ”- her first play, ( a one act Musical in 4 scenes ) was written and extensively performed by women’s colleges during International Women’s Year in 1975. Its protagonist is Lisa, a dedicated anti-cancer researcher in pursuit of life saving drugs with significant sacrifices on the personal front .
No Greater Love– (a one act Musical with six scenes), spotlights the extreme personal sacrifice of a brilliant and promising college girl amidst a background of turbulent inter-personal relations.
Razia, Queen of India is a very interesting historical treatment of India’s first woman monarch, one that shows her as intrepid in battle, independent in love, and novel in her secular and benevolent vision towards the ruled.
The Lute Player– A Musical for children gives a feminine twist to the age of medeival chivalry. Queen Hope, disguised as a wandering minstrel boy, rescues her captive husband from the cruel yet strangely music loving King Anacreon.
A Blossom Fell is a radio play on the gifted but tragically short existence of Bengali poetess Toru Dutt, written and performed in 1976, for AIR Calcutta.
Helen Keller and Ann Sullivan are torchbearers for people with disabilities in A Hidden Treasure, and it is Ann Sullivan’s feminine intuition and perseverance that wins the battle against Helen’s multiple disabilities.
Once Long Ago in Bethlehem– A Children’s Musical , written and first performed as a radio play in 1980 for AIR Calcutta, on the adventures of Miriam, and her life changing encounter with the Christchild’s family and the Three Kings of Orient. The intelligence and talent of the orphaned Miriam are an interesting counterpoint to the dilemmas of the pregnant Mary, mother of Jesus. It was modified into a stage play and performed with a cast of 100 children as actors, singers and dancers after the playwright’s death in 2006.
In Woman in Shadow, Mary Todd Lincoln is shown as a steadfast helpmate in President Abraham Lincoln’s fight to emancipate the slaves, contrary to prevailing notions of this American first lady’s personality.
Clara Schumann in Broken Melody displays an extreme fidelity in marriage to her mentally ill husband, the composer Robert Schumann, utilizing her own celebrity status as a pianist to popularize his then lesser known music on the concert platforms of the world that would give him lasting fame.
My Brother’s Keeper centres around Esther, a brilliant Jewish woman’s personal strength and capacity for sacrifice amidst the horrors of Nazi Germany.
A comedy Show Me the Way to Go Home is about a mid-life home-maker who seeks to improve herself and save her marriage at the same time.
Tomorrow’s Headlines centres on the spirited young journalist Shefali, who takes on an unscrupulous mining baron in a courageous investigative scoop. Pitted against a corrupt media establishment, she soldiers on for her journalistic ideals, supported by a handful of upright individuals willing to stick their necks out for a good cause.
Deep in My Heart- examines the complex issue of race relations through the touching sacrifice of Laura Lane, a British teacher with great affection for the country of her adoption, during the First War of Indian independence.
When The Twain Meet– re-visits the freedom struggle, seeking to redefine the idea of conflict in drama as not between good and evil, but often between equally worthy viewpoints. The drama of Indian independence is viewed from contrasting perspectives- of Sonali, the Bengali aristocrat who takes to Gandhi’s way, her brother Ranjit who embraces extremism, and Sonali’s English fiancée Nicholas , an ICS officer who does his difficult job with a strong empathy for India. The focal point is undoubtedly Sonali. Torn as she is between love for Nicholas and her native land, she will only accept him when India is free and they can meet, not as ruler and ruled but as equal individuals.
The women protagonists of Louella Lobo Prabhu are perhaps not your women next door, they are rather idealized prototypes: remarkable achievers to serve as role models for other women’s aspirations. They are meant to inspire other women in their struggles for identity and the quest for equitable relationships. Interestingly, the male leads are rarely seen in opposition to ladies- Lisa’s admirer Krishna, Nicky the ICS officer in “ When the Twain Meet”, Arun the IAS officer in “ Tomorrow’s Headlines”, are sensitive and empathetic men, true soulmates who support their high minded strivings and wholly worthy of these strong and talented ladies. Ethical principles combine with a strong achievement drive and individualist streak in her heroines. She seeks to make the point that exceptional individuals attract and deserve each other for a better society to happen. It’s also encouraging that her plays imply also the supportive function of feminine bonding between ladies of comparable ability, as mentors, confidantes and friends.
Taking a cue from ancient Greek dramatists, she believed entertainment could be combined with a social message. In a preface to one of her plays, she opined that liberation must come not from men, but from age old social and cultural conditioning that limits women to traditional roles.Her work is a plea for understanding that a woman’s need for constructive achievement is as great as the need for love. Liberation for the woman would be the meaningful new maturity of equality, that values personhood over accessory status. Accordingly, her themes and characters project the hope of women in wider horizons of activity.